Planners sidestep home rental issue

Faced with few hot-button issues more searing than single-family home rentals, the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission on Wednesday took a giant leap … sideways.

Splitting their votes in a rare display of discord, the commission voted, 3-2, to push the issue directly to the Town Council, but only after the overburdened town staff can complete more research into the ages-old issue.

In addition, the five-member commission decided that any work on the issue should not begin until after the current winter ski and snowboard season.

In effect, the commission kept the issue alive, but left it dangling.

“We’re not voting to approve single-family rentals at this point, although that’s insinuated,” said Commissioner Colin Fernie, co-owner of Black Tie Ski Rentals.

“What we’re being ask to discuss is whether we’re to provide recommendation to the Town Council to do a necessary analysis to develop a program to analyze this issue.”

Fernie voted to move the issue forward, as did local developer Dave Harvey and realtor Mickey Brown.
Voting against the action was citizen activist Elizabeth Tenney, who argued that the town staff already is too overburdened to take this on; and chair Rhonda Duggan, manager of the Sierra Nevada Lodge, who had problems with the language of the motion.

Most of the commission’s discussion points, though, were on the merits of opening up Mammoth’s neighborhoods to single-family home rentals, or continuing their prohibition. It is an issue that is as old as Mammoth itself, and it keeps popping up from time to time.

“This is something that’s been going on a lot longer than I’ve been in town,” Fernie said. “It’s something that’s been going on longer than I’ve even been alive. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
In the end, it might not even be an issue that could be resolved by town mandate.

Most residential neighborhoods in Mammoth have strong homeowners associations, with strict rules as to what would be allowed in their neighborhoods.

These rules are called “Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions,” usually shortened to the acronym “CC&Rs.” Whenever a home is sold in the neighborhood, the usual action by the neighbors is to get buy-in, so to speak, from the new homeowners to those regulations.

Some of the CC&Rs are fairly new. Others date back 30 years or older.

Almost all of them prohibit transient rentals.

By going that route, Harvey said Mammoth has lost out on rentals to high-end vacationers, because most rental properties do not have three- or four-bedroom configurations that could accommodate large groups or families.

“I certainly understand all of the negative aspects,” Harvey said. “I don’t want that to overshadow their [proponents of a continued prohibition] understanding what positive impacts there are in developing a program that could go after that particular demographic.”

Fernie, while saying he was merely playing devil’s advocate, said essentially the same thing.

“As someone who has connections with other destination resorts, my research shows, most of the communities are baffled by the fact that we disallow this. They can’t even understand why this would be the case.

“We are attempting to attract a longer-staying crowd and I think that potentially a higher inventory [of high-end transient housing] is a good thing.

“It’s easy for any client to get online and research easily to find the lodging they want in whatever location they want,” Fernie said. “Tallus, for example, has been very well received and they just don’t have any inventory right now.

“A lot of people are looking for that type of home.”

Nothing the commissioners did—or did not do—assuaged the number of people who showed up to voice opposition to any kind of new regulations that would open the neighborhoods to rentals, since the commission merely kicked the issue into the Town Council’s lap.

Supporters of single-family home rentals, who in the past have argued the town would increase its transient occupancy tax revenue by opening neighborhoods for rentals, did not appear at the meeting.