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Single-family home rentals rears its head ... again

October 12, 2012

A single-family home rental sign in Wisconsin.

 An old, disagreeable friend of Mammoth showed up at the door last week in the form of a familiar issue that suddenly has been made new again.

The issue is whether the town should legalize renting single-family homes.

Teams of advocates on both sides began lining up last week, starting with the Town Council meeting on Thursday, Oct. 4, then radiating outward.

By Wednesday, Oct. 10, the battle lines were drawn and the two sides sprang into action, first at the annual Mammoth Board of Realtors meeting and then, later in the day, at the town’s regular Planning Commission meeting.

On the one side is a group called the Mammoth Vacation Home Rentals, which began a petition drive on its website to support home rentals, which currently are outlawed.

“We feel that the town and community of Mammoth Lakes would be much better served—both financially and in terms of quality of life—by legalizing and regulating the long-standing vacation home rental market, rather than attempting to criminalize struggling homeowners,” according to the website.

Community activist and author David Page referenced the group’s work and its website at the contentious Oct. 4 council meeting, as council members and the public came to grips with the $29.5 million, 23-year settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition (MLLA).

On the other side is a group decrying home rentals called Mammoth Neighborhoods. The group includes John Vereuck, Gordon Alper, Kathy and Tom Cage, Teri Stehlik, Gary and Julie Thompson, and Elliott Thompson.

Lanie Somers-Standifer, a homeowner, business owner and former Planning Commission member, spoke for the group at last week’s council meeting, and then entered a position paper into the official record. 

The group presented its paper to the Board of Realtors on Wednesday.

“Since our town’s inception,” Somers-Standifer said, “there have been hours of debate over various principals within our General Plan. One thing, however, has remained constant: It was and is important to the community to support our neighborhoods and keep our sense of community.

“This was accomplished by not allowing nightly rentals in single-family homes.”

While Somers-Standifer argued for a re-affirmation of the town’s General Plan, Page’s group argued for a zoning re-structure, which would put such a plan squarely in the lap of the Planning Commission.

Commissioner Mickey Brown, a realtor, said such a zoning change, if it were to occur at all, probably would not encompass the entire town, but rather to those neighborhoods close to ski area portals such as Canyon Lodge and Eagle Lodge.

The supporters of single-family rentals claim the town could generate significant increases in transient occupancy tax revenue—the bread and butter of the Mammoth economy.

Opening single-family homes to the rental market, the group argues, would “create significant new revenue for the Town of Mammoth Lakes to the tune of $2 to $5 million per year.”

The group also claimed the restriction is hurting Mammoth’s competitive edge as a destination resort.

According to one news source, the group said, “Big Bear brought in $1.2 million from the tax on private home rentals during its fiscal year 2010-11 and $913,548 from commercial lodging (hotels and motels).”

Moreover, the group said opening single-family homes to rentals would take advantage of a nationwide boom in the online accommodations-sharing market and provide an important visitor amenity found at many competing resorts—Squaw Valley, Tahoe City, South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Park City, Sun Valley, Big Sky and Taos, among others.

“A percentage of ski-resort customers want and expect vacation home rentals and will go elsewhere if they can’t get them here,” the Mammoth Vacation Home Rentals website (www.mammothvhr.org) stated.

The Mammoth Neighborhoods group disagreed in strong terms.

“I’m sorry,” Somers-Standifer said in her presentation to the council, “but who wants to live in South Lake Tahoe where there is blight, trash, crime and more? If I wanted to move there to live, I would have a long time ago, but I chose Mammoth for its quality of life.”

As for the revenue possibilities, Somers-Standifer said a knee-jerk reaction to the town’s current budget crisis should not precipitate a drastic, short-term policy.

“They (the pro-rental group) have no business plan—another example of ‘Let us build it/rent it, and they will come,’” she said.

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