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The first question is that of supply and demand

January 18, 2013

 

In the televised Dec. 19 Town Council meeting, Council gave direction to move forward with a “fact-based analysis” of short-term rentals of single family homes where they are currently prohibited by ordinance. Whatever your opinion concerning this matter, obtaining factual data will lay the basis for a solid decision in the future. Focusing the analysis to make it efficient and effective is crucial. The first step in a focused analysis must consider supply and demand in Mammoth Lakes. Data accurately collected and displayed would then dictate whether or not to take any further steps.

The current dispute has proponents stating that we do not have single-family homes for rent, and therefore we are losing customers, making this a matter of urgency. Opponents state that we have this product, but perhaps it is not being marketed well. As there is no centralized inventory of legally-zoned stand-alone homes, there is no data to back up either side’s claims.                                                                                                   

The creation of such an inventory would consist of “legal” zoning classifications for short-term rentals (resort, multi-family, North Village SP, others) to identify the existing type and number of structures (e.g. stand-alone homes within each “legal” subdivision).

This would answer the question of: How many existing stand-alone homes are zoned for short-term rentals? At a more detailed second-level of inventory, it would be helpful to include such features as number of beds, baths, garages, other parking, square footage, etc.

Other questions which need to be answered in an analysis of supply: of those existing structures, how many are occupied by permanent residents? How many are current second-home owners who do not wish to rent? The remainder tells us how many are currently available for short-term rentals. Also, do these subdivisions have CC&Rs that prohibit short-term rentals? And, how many legal stand-alone homes have been approved for future development?

The next important data to collect involves demand, or, what is the current occupancy rate? While this is not an easy part of the analysis, this is of great importance to the TOT task force, and will yield the highest “bang for the buck.” As legal rentals are identified through an inventory process, more business/TOT licenses will be issued, back TOT taxes collected, and future TOT assured. Also, as this data is collected, it will clearly tell us whether we have adequate “product” in our town or not. If we have adequate “product,” but occupancy is low, then perhaps we need to market what we have much better.

Some sort of centralized website would be helpful for VRBO’s, property managers, the town, and even MLT to better direct guests who are looking for this theoretically missing product.

One clear example occurred during the Council meeting which illustrates our problem: Council member Eastman asked about the number of stand-alone homes in the Stonegate complex, and staff answered that they were “condos,” not “homes.”

Both, in fact, were correct, but were speaking on two different levels. In fact, Stonegate contains 13 stand-alone luxury homes, but because they are clustered on a single, undivided parcel, they are legally classified as a condominium project within the North Village Specific Plan. It’s important to recognize that a guest seeks a product (stand-alone home), and does not care about its zoning or ownership status. 

Our challenge is to correctly identify the product in our legally zoned areas, and to better market it if its occupancy is low. 

A detailed inventory of what we have would therefore be the first step of the analysis, and would give us the answer to “go,” “no go,” or possibly “not yet.” It also might answer the Zoning/General Plan amendment questions, which have been posed.

The occupancy question, while a moving target, also gives a clearer picture of product demand and TOT potential. Both of these are critical questions that must be answered before Council can make a “fact-based” decision on whether to take the next steps or not.

It is essential that the analysis does not begin with the wider questions of what other communities have done, as that could be an endless and fruitless research project. That would come in later stages of the analysis, if the initial analysis shows that there is a need to move forward. The first question is only that of supply and demand in Mammoth Lakes.

Sandy Hogan

17-year Mammoth Lakes resident

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