The Sunset Capital of Alabama is revising its Zoning Ordinance and has released a draft for public review. The changes could mean fewer short-term rental properties on Dauphin Island. While some understand the importance of keeping the island a home for full-time residents, others fear the changes could impact their pockets.
The plan would add a Short-Term Vacation Rental Overlay District (STVROD). The district would be the only area where short-term vacation rentals are allowed. It would not impact homes rented for six months or longer (long-term rentals). However, if the plan is adopted as-is, current owners of vacation rental properties that have a business license from the city would be able to continue to do so for 10 years.
There are other additions to the town’s zoning ordinance in the plan, but Mayor Jeff Collier said he has heard the most discussion in town about the STVROD.
“The theory is that they’re trying to protect the integrity of the more residential neighborhoods,” said Collier. “Neighborhoods that have traditionally been where full-time residents have lived and over the years they’re getting infiltrated with short-term rentals, which can have a tendency of upsetting what’s otherwise a pretty quiet, laid-back neighborhood.”
Collier said along with traffic noise and parking problems, other issues have been brought up about short-term rentals. But at the same time, he said there is concern with limiting the number of people that come spend money on the island.
“Obviously, it has other implications as well,” said Collier. “One of those being revenues. The other side of that is that rental properties generate a certain amount of revenues. There are rental taxes and of course it provides additional lodging for people to potentially eat and drink and support other businesses on the island.”
The STVROD is primarily over the west part of the island. That area has seen the most issues with flooding and damage due to hurricanes and storms over the years.
“The West End is traditionally our most vulnerable area when it comes to storms,” said Collier. “…It’s very low-rise and the erosion over the years has put the Gulf very close to the main road down there.”
The committee that put the plan together worked with South Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC). SARPC was established by the Mobile Regional Planning Commission in 1964 and works as one of the 12 regional commissions in Alabama.
“This was all put together by a five or six-member committee, most of which were members of Planning Commission, some were not,” said Collier.
Collier said the plan has been in the works for a year and a half after the city received a matching grant to amend the zoning ordinance. The grant came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and funding is also being provided by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Collier said the town of Dauphin Island requires a business license for individuals who rent their property out on their own. However, for those who use an agency, their business licenses are covered through the agency. As it stands in the draft, those who currently rent out their homes through an agency will need to get their own business license before the ordinance passes, in order to continue to rent out their property for the next 10 years.
“That would mean before this gets passed, they would have to come in and get one [a business license], based on the current language in this ordinance which … that language may change,” said Collier.
Collier said the Town Council also recently passed a new permit requirement for rental properties for a safety inspection. He said he isn’t sure how that permit fee and a business license will work together at this point.
“I’m not sure how all of that is going to shake out,” Collier said. “…Most of the rental properties don’t have to have a business license itself. This ordinance … does call for that, but then I’m further muddying the water by saying that the council passed this inspection fee back just several months ago that’s $150. So, I’m not sure if we’re going to end up going with one or if we’re going to go with both or merge them. I’m not sure how that’s going to play out at this point.”
The town’s existing ordinance is also being reorganized and additions and changes are still expected to be made. The city and the Planning Commission are still accepting feedback and Collier said the plan is not set in stone.
The project is currently at the Planning Commission level. The next step will be for the commission to vote on whether to send the draft to the Town Council. If the commission approves the draft and sends it to council, the council will then discuss the document, hold a public hearing, make any changes that they see fit, then vote on adopting the new zoning ordinance.
The next Planning Commission meeting will be on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 5 p.m. at Town Hall. Residents are welcome to come to address the commission, although Collier said he didn’t think the issue would be voted on that soon.
“We’re encouraging people now to read the document, submit any comments, whether they are pros or cons via email and we are sending all of those to the Planning Commission and the Town Council because those two are who will determine the fate of this document,” Collier said.
The commission meets once a month. Anyone who cannot make it to a meeting, can email Town Clerk Wanda Sandagger at email@example.com.
Other changes to the ordinance include impervious surfaces (how much structure can cover a lot), turtle lighting and lighting in general. You can read the entire proposed draft here.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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