By Greg Ellison
(March 25, 2021) Although a motion for short-term rental guidelines was delayed because a town hall meeting on the topic is scheduled next month, Ocean Pines residents spent nearly two hours airing their views on the proposed rules during a board of directors’ virtual meeting Saturday.
Board member Dr. Colette Horn preempted public comments on Saturday by noting the level of interest in the plan warranted delaying a vote on it until after a town hall meeting on April 17 at 9 a.m.
“We’re seeing interest in a virtual and in-person town hall, [but] we don’t have capabilities currently,” she said. “If we can get 1,000 subscribers on YouTube, we could live stream in the future.”
The OPA YouTube channel had 291 subscribers as of this Monday.
Board member Frank Daly said the motion to adopt short-term rental regulations in Ocean Pines would be revived at the next regular board meeting on April 21.
In light of those developments, OPA President Larry Perrone opened public comments by asking homeowners interested in the short-term rental guidelines to allow people with other discussion points to speak first.
What followed was a flood of residents worried about unintended consequences of proposed changes to ARC [Architectural Review Committee] rules to establish guidelines for short-term rentals.
One recurring point raised was that the additional layer of regulations, which were aimed at a small number of irresponsible landlords, could cause hundreds of responsible homeowners to lose rental income.
Daly said the rental initiative was launched nearly two years ago because of problems with a handful of properties.
Aware that Worcester County was then in the midst of establishing short-term rental licensing, which eventually became effective Jan. 1, 2020, Daly said OPA officials opted to await the outcome before proceeding.
“When the county passed regulations, they said this was Ocean Pines’ problem,” he said.
Daly said county officials advised the association that it could request Pines-specific amendments if need arose in the future.
The current effort reflects recurring issues with a rental property at 91 Abbyshire Rd. that came to a head last year.
Daly said police had visited the location a dozen times in four years for complaints from neighbors about renters there.
“Unfortunately, county regulations proved ineffective in enforcing,” he said.
Despite Worcester County issuing $100 fines for the unlicensed rental property when online advertisements were noticed, the property owner continued to flout regulations.
“The person with the Airbnb contract said they had no interest in changing their ways until someone shows up that could evict tenants,” he said.
More recently, Daly said Worcester reported the issue was resolved after a $500 fine was issued.
“So, for four years the person rented for hundreds per night and ultimately got fined $500,” he said.
Following this experience, a short-term rental work group was formed last summer. It met several times with the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) and public safety officials as well as the Worcester County zoning office.
Daly said the information gathering concluded, as legal counsel advised the association to exhaust all internal options before consulting with Worcester officials.
Association governing documents currently lack guidelines to regulate rentals lasting 29 days or less.
Daly said while a percentage of Pines properties rented for short terms meet county regulations, a far greater number might be ignoring the requirements.
“I’ve been told there are far more rentals in Ocean Pines than 145 and they do not have county licenses,” he said.
Daly said the ARC guideline changes were proposed in lieu of an outright ban on short-term rentals in the Pines.
“This is complaint-driven,” he said
Daly said the alternative is the association lacks any ability to assist neighbors reporting nuisance renters.
“If abiding the rules, people won’t have problems,” he said.
In response to multiple residents questioning the wisdom of holding the April 17 meeting in person, Perrone said the board is exploring the possibility of using the Yacht Club’s upstairs ballroom to permit greater capacity.
Regardless of location, Horn said all comments made during the April 17 meeting would be considered when revisiting approval of short-term rental rules at the April 21 board meeting.