Deregulating vacation rentals would degrade Brevard’s residential neighborhoods

Mark Shantzis, Your Turn
Published 1:34 p.m. ET Oct. 20, 2020

Brevard County is a rarity.

There is an abundance of nature and wildlife, with access to a rural beach in a mild, tropical climate, while also close to an international airport. There are many public parks, beaches, and over 150 miles of fishing shoreline, second-to-none in Florida. Reasonable zoning separates business, industrial, and tourist mayhem from residential neighborhoods, allowing families to grow and thrive without increased personal risks associated with these businesses next door.

Now, we are at risk of losing this paradise forever.

County Commission John Tobia, who’s running for reelection this year, has proposed to reduce regulations on short-term vacation rentals. If he prevails, commercial tourism will usurp our rights of living in our customarily safe neighborhoods, which will rapidly disappear. The County Commission approved Tobia’s proposal in September for what’s what’s known as “legislative intent,” directing county staff to work on rewriting county rules regulating resort dwellings.

Clearly, a certain amount of property rights are reasonable, but an excessive shift will lead to nullification of the delicate equilibrium of current zoning that protects neighborhoods from commercial enterprises like the “hotel next door.”

In the past, property rights advocates have worked behind the scenes to change the county’s protective zoning regulations a bit at a time, corroborated by a 93% approval record of zoning change requests, while the public isn’t looking.

But this time the resort/vacation rental advocates have grown bolder, and one day soon we will wake up  to understand that Joni Mitchell’s 1970 words in Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” were all too relevant in 2020.

This latest attempt is a blatant proposal by Tobia to destroy a valuable and irreplaceable 2006 grandfathered exemption that Brevard has from a state law that he voted for while a state representative in 2011, effectively allowing vacation rentals anywhere and everywhere.

But before you even knew this was the subject, you would have asked yourself, “Why would anyone ever give up an exemption to a state law that allows locals to make their own laws?” 

These vacation rentals would upend our local communities and neighborhoods that have been protected by our resort dwelling ordinance since 2006. Although such rentals are currently illegal in many residential locations, there are still hundreds of Brevard properties being rented as vacation rentals. evidenced by listings on VRBO and AirBnB. As you can imagine, they are causing many complaints to code enforcement and police, and leaving less resources to attend to other important issues in our neighborhoods.

There are many horror stories regarding noise and safety issues from neighbors about these short-term rentals, and these rentals will only increase if the county changes the 2006 ordinance. So the next question you’ve got to ask is: “What will my neighborhood look like?”

Here’s the answer from the Florida League of Cities, which writes:

“Cities and counties without short-term rental regulations in place prior to June 1, 2011, have had their zoning authority stripped and are now seeing these rentals completely overtaking residential neighborhoods. Long-time residents are moving out as a result, and the residential character of traditional neighborhoods is slowly being destroyed.”

“Those cities and counties fortunate enough to have had an ordinance in place prior to the 2011 preemption are still allowed to regulate short-term rentals, but the question remains… whether these ordinances will continue to be valid if amended.”

So this election is really about the choice between retaining neighborhoods or allowing commercial tourist accommodations.

When commercial is allowed in residential areas, there are the very predictable strains as the residential sanctity of the neighborhood is degraded while being replaced by all kinds of different occupants, absentee owners and corporate management.

This would upset the delicate balance of property rights, and destroy the character of the communities in which we reside.

Mark Shantzis is a local retired businessman and president of Barrier Island Preservation and Protection Association.          

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