Vilifying, banning, name-calling… None of this happened during Monday night’s Bozeman City Commission proceeding. In fairness, only a few of the congregants were seated near a microphone, so there might have been a slur or two uttered off-record. And the college kids’ renting the house next door—with their sofas out on the lawn—well, they’re so often slandered during the public comment period of these meetings that it’s hardly worth mentioning.
Including Carson Taylor as mayor and Cyndy Andrus as deputy mayor, among commissioners Chris Mehl and Jeff Krauss, the Bozeman City Commission took up again the issue of extended-stay lodging (i.e. short-term rentals) in city neighborhoods. On the table was the proposed Ordinance #1958: “repealing and suspending extended-stay lodging and other similar uses such as short term and vacation rentals as a conditional use in R-1, R-2, R-S, and NEHMU zoning districts for a period of six months or until such time…”
The proposal drew ten or twelve residents into the seats, though they were far more vocal than they were numerous. This issue has been a hot-button topic in the local paper, but more on that later. During the meeting, members of the audience were asked more than once to quiet down.
Robert, a 33-year resident of Bozeman said during the public comment period, “There have been 3 noise complaints in three years, for vacation rentals within Bozeman city limits. I feel vilified having a vacation rental, I’m a bad guy.”
It is from this group that various uses of the word ‘vilify” seem to have emanated. Several of them used the term in their public comment, and it is a word that the commissioners made clear has not come from city officials.
Commissioner Mehl said later in the evening, “I don’t recall any of the commissioners vilifying short-term or long-term renters.” Then he noted as well how often the college-aged renters in Bozeman are disparaged.
So, no vilification.
Another long-term resident, Molly, said, “There are 244 short-term rentals… among 40,000 living units in Bozeman. This isn’t an epidemic.”
Several of the attendees questioned the City’s need or ability to govern the matter.
Richard Martel, a south-side resident, said, “I think that its way-way premature for you guys to be regulating this. Frankly, I would like for you to slow down, and do a study. And based on that study, take necessary action.”
Very little of our city commission meetings’ formal communication happens in direct response, but Greg Sullivan stated later and during the ordinance’s presentation, “State law and the municipal code both authorize the City to govern this matter.”
Mayor Taylor: “The role of city government is to address small problems before they become big problems…. We’re not making anything illegal tomorrow that wasn’t already illegal yesterday.”
That comment addressed another issue of clouded conception, whether the City was actually “banning” anything. The current application of that word has a very public genesis in a recent headline of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Eric Dietrich’s August 7th article was titled, “Bozeman to consider an interim ban on new vacation rentals.”
Throughout the evening, numerous public officials made remarks to diffuse this misleading statement.
Commissioner Jeff Krauss: “If you’re unpermitted now, just like tomorrow you would not be in compliance with local ordinance and subject to penalty.”
Chris Saunders, the interim Planning Development Director (again), created a map of Bozeman illustrating that the majority of zoned residential areas inside of city limits would not be affected by this ordinance. He said, “No matter what we do tonight, it won’t change the business license requirement or the state inspection requirement.”
Deputy Mayor Andrus, who formally introduced the proposed ordinance, clarified then that addition that she’d added a clause to protect applicants for CUPs who’ve submitted on or before Monday. (CUPs are city lingo for “condition-use permits”.)
All of this official testimony had such an effect on Eric Dietrich that his article in the newspaper today (August 9th) is titled, “Commission approves temporary ban on vacation rental permits.”
And journalists wonder why the public dislikes newspapers and the media. The title is inaccurate, if not false.
Krauss: “If you’re operating a legal short-term rental today, you’re okay. If you haven’t got a CUP to run one of those, then you haven’t done what is required by current zoning.”
Andrus: “What we are doing is pausing the application of CUPs in R-1, R-2, RS, and NEMHU.” She cited that the character of neighborhoods were being altered, and said, “I just want to be clear, that we are pausing for six months to get a better handle on what we are doing. To be clear, if you live in these zoning areas, you will have to wait to apply for the CUPs.”
Krauss: “Much of the zoning in Bozeman allows short-term vacation rentals… We’ll try to get it done in six months—that’s the plan.”
Carson Taylor: “The fact is that the new economy is encouraging business that flies under the radar of the normal tax structure—and those of us who’ve paid into that structure.”
So, no banning, either. But those college kids, and their sofas.