Open Letter to the Talbot County Council on Short Term Rentals by Jack Fischer

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In my final days on the County Planning Commission, I have been reflecting on our efforts over the past five years and particularly on our recent work to update of the County zoning ordinance. Although satisfied with the resolution of many of the zoning issues with which we dealt, I believe now that we should have been much more aggressive in dealing with the negative consequences of the fast-growing short-term rental (STR) industry in the County.

During our public hearings on the ordinance, most citizens critical of STR’s focused on the negative impacts of disturbances caused by short term renters—straying dogs, loud outdoor parties extending to early morning, randomly parked cars, strewn trash, speeding vehicles, etc. The updated zoning ordinance includes several changes I believe will provide the County effective ways to deal with that issue. But I think we missed the forest for the trees. The negative impacts of STR’s go well beyond physical disturbance.

Each of us appreciates the sense of comfort, safety and security felt when living in a neighborhood within which neighbors are familiar to one another—who leaves home early in the morning, who arrives late, whose child is away at school, who might baby sit our children, who is ill, who holds the neighborhood Super Bowl party, who bakes a great apple pie, who might help build a new deck, on and on. Our neighbors become a second family. Inserting unfamiliar people, even well-behaved, into a home or into homes in that neighborhood, new faces week after week, creates uneasiness, discomfort and, in the end, a lost sense of family and security.

To better understand citizens effected by that situation, it is useful to ponder answers to these two questions: “If you were interested in buying a certain house and were told the house next door was a STR, would you be more likely to buy or less?” And “What would be your reaction if your next-door neighbor announced that he or she intended to turn their home into a STR?” In responding honestly to those questions, you will sense the day-to-day reality of the hundreds of County citizens living beside or near a STR. You have been elected to serve these people and those others who surely will be in their position soon.

Another impact of the fast-growing STR industry is that workforce and affordable homes in communities attractive as vacation destinations are being purchased by local and out-of-town investors and converted to STR’s. It’s profitable. Each conversion from family home to STR diminishes the number of workforce homes available for permanent occupancy. This causes the price of those homes remaining to escalate out of reach of the workforce. This is a nationwide phenomenon but has a particularly negative impact in our County in which the lack of affordable and workforce housing is an issue.

As STR’s cause the cost of remaining workforce houses to rise, it causes the value of homes of permanent residences adjacent to or near the converted STR to fall. The insidiousness of the situation is that the only way for the owner of the adjacent house to recover the value in his or her home is to convert it also to a STR. This sequence places whole neighborhoods at risk of becoming transient.

Other than the financial gain to local and absentee homeowners, it is difficult to find other positive contributions STR’s make to our County. As transients, short-term renters do not volunteer for the planning or execution of local events or activities such as Plein Air, the Waterfowl festival, CASA, the Avalon Foundation, etc. It is unlikely they shop in our stores or dine in our restaurants more often than permanent residents. They neither vote nor pay taxes. They do not support local charities or join our churches. They take no interest in our schools. In that light, each home converted from a family dwelling to a STR diminishes the foundation of the County, the stock that makes our County work.

In sum, STR’s constitute a significant negative impact on our neighborhoods, our communities and our County. In seeking remedies to deal with this fact, many towns and counties across the nation, including the Town of Easton, have adopted the simple and straight forward measure of requiring STR’s to be the principle residence of the homeowner. There are other options available to the Council but that single action would address most of the negative impacts outlined above.

The short-term rental industry is expanding rapidly here. Inaction is certain to result in a diminished quality of life for a fast-increasing number of citizens you serve and will alter our County quickly, markedly and adversely. I urge you to act.

Jack Fischer
Sherwood

     

 

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Letters to Editor

  1. Donna Dudley says:

    Those of us who have been strongly and vocally opposed to STRs since one appeared, unwanted and unexpected, in our once close-knit neighborhood, have made most of these points over and over again in op eds, letters, public statements, etc., for over two years. I am gratified and appreciative that Mr. Fischer has finally come to recognize the damage that the unlimited proliferation of STRs is causing and will continue to cause in Talbot County unless reasonable limitations are enacted. Hopefully, the new County Council will see the light, as well.

  2. David and Rebecca Jeffery says:

    We applaud. You expressed our thoughts, worries and feelings precisely.

    Thank you

  3. David Lloyd says:

    Amen to “urge you to act!” Hopefully, the Council, under new leadership, will re-think (to the extent possible) decisions made over this past summer to loosen STR regulations. Our community deserves what Mr. Fischer notes: adopt the Town of Easton’s requirement that an STR must be the principle residence of the homeowner.

  4. Sarah Eastman says:

    Thank you to Mr. Fischer for your service and writing this; BUT isn’t it too late to stop the STR rollout? Neither the County Council nor the Planning Commision did much to help restrict STRS during the Code 190. Am I misinformed Mr. Fischer? What can a landowner do now to be heard and prevent the slow, painful onslaught of neighborhoods and our communities by divisive STRS? If you are speaking about the STR Board, surely it is destined by a majority of representatives who favor real estate transactions and others motivated by their own financial interests… and not good stewards or community activists who don’t want to be abused and toiled with as the minority. Do you know anyone running for the STR Board? I don’t.

    • Carl Doll and Lou Doll says:

      Thank you Mr. Fischer for this outstanding summary of the STR problem. Mr. Bartlett and Mrs. Price’s explanations confirmed that they understood the problem as you have explained it. The new enforcement protocols sound positive. Unfortunately to be effective most of the burden falls on the adjacent neighbor. The other side did not explain their positions other than just voting against solutions. We can only speculate what was driving such aggressive opposition. The Republican Central Committee apparently was a major force. But why? Same for the Mid-Shore Board of Realtors. Most realtors understand that STR’s only benefit the owner. The community is mostly harmed in seriously big ways. If things are to get better, how the new STR Review Board will be staffed offers a possibility, but the odds do not look encouraging.

  5. Carolyn Ewing says:

    Jack, thank you for once again addressing the cultural as well as the obvious economic costs of STRs to communities. Thank you for your many contributions to our community and to the planning commission. Best wishes in your new home.

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