Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Legislature Approves Bill To Limit Vacation Rental Regulation

During the session that ended March 9, the Legislature approved a bill that would make it almost impossible for Boca Raton and Delray Beach to regulate vacation rental properties that critics call “party houses.”

It’s the latest example of pre-emption—shifting control from cities and counties to the state. Under Senate Bill 280, vacation rental licensing and oversight of advertising platforms would go to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The agency is chronically understaffed, and the bill would add just nine employees to monitor vacation rentals.

Supporters claim that the bill actually would help local governments by specifying how many people can stay in short-term rentals. But let’s do the math.

A four-bedroom home in a single-family neighborhood might hold as few as four people: two adults, one child each in two of the bedrooms, with the fourth bedroom for guests. Under SB 280, vacation rentals could have two people in each bedroom and two people in a common area. That’s 10 adults.

In addition, the bill would allow more than two people in a bedroom if each person has at least 50 square feet of space. That could mean a dozen or more adults in one house holding parties every night for two weeks.

Here’s an especially hypocritical part of the bill: It exempts Flagler County. That happens to be the home of House Speaker Paul Renner. Meanwhile, local officials in Flagler County are urging Gov. DeSantis to veto the bill.

Tallahassee power players are divided. The restaurant association favors the bill, believing that it would draw more visitors who would eat out more often. The Realtors oppose it, believing that it would degrade single-family neighborhoods and make homes harder to sell.

Florida has 172,000 listed vacation rental properties and perhaps many more that aren’t on the books. What began as a way for empty-nesters to make money by renting a room to vacationers has become an industry. In South Beach, investors have bought multiple units in some condos, essentially turning the property into an unlicensed hotel that doesn’t pay tourist taxes. Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon has made that point in criticizing the bill.

Lori Berman and Tina Polsky, the state senators who represent Boca Raton and Delray Beach, voted against SB 280. Joe Casello and Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who represent the cities in the House, did not vote. It passed the House just 60-51.

SB 280 has not gone to DeSantis. When it does, the governor will have 15 days to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Gov. DeSantis signs bill banning public sleeping

The other bill of note that could affect Boca Raton and Delray Beach is the ban on sleeping in public that DeSantis already has signed. As with vacation rentals, it is the state telling cities and counties how to deal with the homeless.

Local governments are trying to sort out their responses, since the law comes with no money. I’ll have more on this topic in an upcoming post.

New bill could make it harder to hold public officials accountable

Another controversial bill to emerge from the session would make it much harder to file ethics complaints against public officials.

Under current law, people must file complaints “under oath and affirmation” that they have “knowledge and belief” of the alleged violation. Senate Bill 7014 would raise that standard. Complainants would need “personal knowledge or information other than hearsay.”

Essentially, the bill defines “hearsay” as a newspaper article that lays out ethics violations in detail. Advocacy groups such as Common Cause Florida want DeSantis to veto the bill. Though supporters argue that it would reduce frivolous complaints, the director of the Florida Ethics Institute called it “an unprecedented attack” on the work of the Florida Commission on Ethics and local agencies such as the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics. It was formed after three county commissioners went to prison on corruption charges.

Ironically, Florida’s ethics laws are hardly the nation’s toughest. The state commission and local panels, for example, can’t open investigations on their own.

The state commission also has had problems recently. The former chairman resigned last year after he, ahem, violated ethics laws by serving simultaneously on the board of DeSantis’ Disney World oversight panel. 

This year, the Florida Senate refused to confirm Tina Descovich after DeSantis appointed her to the seven-member commission. Descovich co-chairs the right-wing group Moms For Liberty. In that role, critics said, she has served as a lobbyist. No commission member can be a lobbyist.

SB 7014 has not gone to DeSantis.

Boca P&Z board to discuss Dixie Manor plans

Dixie Manor; photo by Randy Schultz

Boca Raton may not have direct control over the city’s housing authority, but the city does have approval over what the authority builds to replace Dixie Manor. That process starts tonight at the planning and zoning board meeting.

As I have written, the authority wants to demolish Dixie Manor’s 95 rent-subsidized units and build 95 new ones on the north side of the 10-acre site near Dixie Highway and Glades Road. Because the three buildings would be three stories tall, there could be room for 95 more units on the south side if the authority gets money for that expansion.

Though some of the existing units were built in the 1940s and none have central air-conditioning, some residents and their advocates have criticized the authority for not providing enough information about where residents will live during construction or where they will move if they don’t want to return. Though council members only appoint the authority’s seven board members, they have shared that criticism.

As for the project itself, though, the staff memo recommends approval with conditions. It would include a roughly 4,300-square foot clubhouse and preserve the existing community center. The complex will be renamed Martin Manor, in honor of the late Lois Matin. Last year, the city named part of a nearby street for the educator and activist who lived in the Pearl City neighborhood that is home to Dixie Manor.

The authority and the developer, Atlantic Pacific Communities, want to build fewer parking and electric vehicle charging stations that rules require. City staff agree, saying that Martin Manor will generate less demand for both.

One homeowner in the community just north of Dixie Manor wrote to oppose the project, saying that he plans to move from New York City and doesn’t want another “high rise.” The Legal Aid Society sent a letter seeking better tenant guarantees.

If the board recommends approval, the plan could go to the city council this month or next.

Boca ALF developer proposed luxury residential project

The developer of a senior living complex in downtown Boca Raton now wants to build a luxury residential project.

In 2018, the community redevelopment agency approved The Concierge. It was to have 88 units. Controversy arose when two city council members expressed concern that older people might kill the downtown vibe. After being threatened with an age discrimination lawsuit, the CRA voted yes.

The new proposal is for a 42-unit, multi-family project on the site at 22 Southeast Sixth Court. It would have a rooftop spa and pool, a fitness center and a “summer kitchen.” The parking plan includes 60 mechanical spaces for valet service.

Planning and zoning board members will hear the proposal at tonight’s meeting. City staffers recommend approval with a condition related to how trucks would maneuver around the building, which would be nine stories and 116 feet tall. Otherwise, the staff memo says, the project meets downtown development rules, and fewer units are being proposed.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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