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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Short-term rental rules win approval from Town Council

By Greg Ellison

(March 31, 2022) Following hours of commentary from supporters and opponents of rental regulations, the Berlin Town Council voted on Monday to create and impose new rules for short-term rentals as of July 1.

Mayor Zach Tyndall said the hot-button topic has been bandied about for several years.

“The intent is to maintain the character of the neighborhood,” he said.

Tyndall said protecting health, safety and general welfare were additional goals for regulating rentals.

“We did work through a lot of the feedback we received in public listening sessions,” he said.

Council members last reviewed the issue during its meeting on Feb. 28.

Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the ordinance presented on Monday was largely unaltered from the most recent draft version.

“Generally, this is allowing short-term rentals of residential units in all residential districts (R-1-4) and where they are allowed on the second floor in the business district (B1-3),” he said.

In earlier deliberations, the council amended the ordinance to require that an assigned agent reside within 30 minutes of the rental’s location.

“We established the license requirement and the fee amount,” he said.

Engelhart said parking and occupancy limits were in accordance with town code.

Of particular note, Engelhart said a previous provision to require short-term rentals be an owner’s primary residence was later omitted.

Under the proposed ordinance, annual short-term rental’s licenses would run from July 1 to June 30 to mirror Berlin’s fiscal calendar.

“It can be renewed if in compliance,” he said.

Annual license fees were proposed to be $125, with a recurring $600 fine for every 30 days an unlicensed rental operates.

Engelhart said repeated violations of noise or other town ordinances could result in license revocation.

The contentious issue attracted a capacity crowd to the Monday evening meeting, with a multitude of opposition voices airing reservations.

Resident Jay Walsh said the potential for a rapid influx of short-term rentals should be concerning to the community.

“The cost burden comes on the backs of our citizens,” he said. “Don’t let it drain resources.”

Based on prior rental experience, resident Tony Weeg also spoke out against the measure.

“Knowing that it’s a business and we don’t let businesses operate in our residential sections sort of makes it clear it’s an obtuse position for a business to be in,” he said.

Weeg, who also owns a condo unit in Ocean City, said recurring guest turnover is anticipated at the beach.

“That’s what OC is built for,” he said. “I hope that you can see the difference between Berlin and Ocean City.”

Weeg espoused support for reinstating the owner-occupied provision that had been deleted.

“That’s not why we bought into this amazing town,” he said.

Resident Laura Stearns, who lives across from a short-term rental, has witnessed abuses by transient guests.

“Week after week you just never know what you’re going to get,” she said.

Stearns said allowing short-term rentals in R-1 and R-2 districts without owners on site presents problems.

“When it’s not owner-occupied, that means it’s a business,” she said. “It’s people like me that have to live next to a business in the R-1 zone, that’s the problem.”

While hesitant to dictate property uses, Stearns said quality of life issues are at risk.

“I moved here from Ocean City, where I lived next door to apartments that were constantly having parties,” she said. “If you allow it, it could be next door to you.”

Also providing a negative history with short-term rentals was resident Glenn Davis, who moved to Berlin from Bethany Beach.

Davis said he witnessed short-term renters abuse occupancy limits and ignore noise ordinances.

“They would leave at the end of the week with overflowing trash cans, just in time for the cycle to begin again and start all over,” he said.

Davis said a primary incentive for relocating his brood to Berlin was the sense of community.

“Rather than assisting investors with their rental business, we should be trying to attract families and first-time homeowners,” he said.

Resident Debbie Cook, who previously operated rentals in Ocean City, said those who favor the proposed rules do so because of their financial interests.

“You should also listen to those of us without a financial interest,” she said.

Cook said allowing short-term rentals in residential districts would eventually cost the town its charm.

Photo by Greg Ellison
Following extensive public comments airing myriad concerns Berlin Town Council approved a short-term rental ordinance by a split 3-2 vote on Monday.

“Just like Ocean City, you’re going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” she said.

Also referencing past rental experience was resident Ed Hammond.

“I have operated short-term rentals in another city for five years,” he said.

Hammond said focusing on the merits of individual renters misses the larger picture.

“The real issue here is the removal of housing stock from being a functional part of the community,” he said. “Once you get too many of these operations running you begin to gut the community.”

Hammond also stressed the need to levy fines large enough to be more than a cost of doing business for rental operators.

Resident Barb Stack, who joined the chorus of voices lobbying for an owner occupied provision, said roughly 80 percent of Berlin properties are located in R-1 or R-2 districts.

“Investment companies are buying property to make short-term rentals,” she said. “We’re going to lose our community.”

Berlin Planning Commission Vice-Chair Ron Cascio also voiced support for putting the owner occupied aspect back in the ordinance.

“Who are you here to represent is my question?” he said. “We’ll find out soon tonight, I hope.”

While slightly outnumbered, several short-term rental proponents also provided perspective.

Lindsey Parker, who has operated a short-term rental in Berlin for the last five years, estimated having 118 reservations during that time.

“The issue is complex,” she said.

Parker said in most cases short-term rentals prove beneficial for neighborhoods.

Another Berlin short-term rental operator, Jamie Parker, also lent support for the proposed rules.

Parker said from her experience the majority of renters are families with young children looking to avoid the busy beach resort.

Following public commentary, the council voted in favor of several amendments, including requiring short-term rentals in R-1 and R-2 districts to be owner-occupied.

The council voted unanimously to increase the licensing fee from $125 to $200, while also setting a $200 per day fine  for violations with the potential for revocation if recurring.

The revised ordinance, which was approved on a split vote with council members Dean Burrell and Troy Purnell opposed, is slated to go into effect on or before July 1.