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Special use permits spark discussion on short-term rentals

by Marc Hayot | January 18, 2023 at 11:25 a.m.
City hall

Three special use permits approved by the planning commission sparked discussion with audience members over short-term rentals during the planning commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

The special use development permits were for short-term rentals located at 617 S. Maxwell St., 413 S. Madison St. and 731 Cypress Court. All three permits were approved with a vote of 6-0 with Commissioner Isaac McKinney absent. All three of these permits will go before the city board on Feb. 7.

Maxwell Street rental

Planner-1 Maegan Thomas began with the permit at 617 S. Maxwell St. The potential short-term rental is currently zoned R-2 (Residential medium) with an H-1 (Historic) overlay and has existing parking, Thomas said. City staff is recommending approval, Thomas said.

When the public comment portion began Todd Varnadoe, who is acting as an agent for the Cook family, the owners of the property, spoke about the Cooks and their desire to live in Siloam Springs when they return home from running their business in India.

"I believe she's from Kansas if I'm not mistaken and he's from Tulsa and they just chose Siloam Springs as a place to live," Varnadoe said. "They like the community, they like the area and they wanted to have a home to come back to visit family and wanted to take advantage of our awesome town."

After Varnadoe spoke, a citizen named Carolyn Rood addressed the commission. Rood said she has a home on Maxwell Street across the street from people who are wanting to put in a short-term rental behind Rood's business, the French Hen.

Rood also spoke about another short-term rental with a red roof also located behind the French Hen.

"The people that own it are from Gentry," Rood said. "So they are not there when there's any people renting the building."

Rood said the property is rented out to people from different states and that it is a good idea to bring people into Siloam Springs but said there were too many short-term rental properties.

"There's three within a block and Mount Olive in my area where my business is," Rood said. "In the evening it's actually a party house. There were four cases of liquor and beer bottles strewn all over and like I say the people live in Gentry; they don't know what's going on."

Rood said she does not live there, but said if she had children she would be concerned and doesn't think all of the people coming in and out is fair to the neighborhood. Rood went over her time speaking and commission chair J.W. Smith asked her to wrap up her thoughts.

Varnadoe asked to make an additional point which Smith allowed. Varnadoe said he knows there was a lot of talk but said the home that he is presenting as well as the two homes next to it are well maintained and said owners of a business will increase their value.

He also mentioned a recent guest who were there for an extended stay and notified Varnadoe that there was possibly some possibly shady activities in one of the houses next door.

"There seemed to be in their opinion some sort of illegal activity taking place where people were coming in at all hours of the night back and forth," Varnadoe said.

Varnadoe said he notified the police but emphasized that the initial tip came from some guests who have visited the community multiple times and stayed at multiple locations.

"We vet every person that that stays before approving that they stay," Varnadoe said. "There are rules and we've had zero issues whatsoever where any police have been called at any of our properties."

Following public comment the commissioners discussed the property. Commissioner Katie Rennard asked about the management of the properties. She said she received a letter where Varnadoe gave his contact information for any problems they might have.

Varnadoe said yes and gave his cell phone number. He also said he lives a block and a half away from the rental property and said renters and neighbors were welcome to contact him anytime.

Smith commented on what Rood had said about beer bottles and parties and asked Varnadoe if this rental was one of his properties. Varnadoe said no.

Rennard asked City Attorney Jay Williams if it was true that the city is looking at revisiting the resolution about having short-term rentals and Williams said city staff is working on it and will bring it forward shortly.

She also asked what recourse there would be if someone called and reported that there was a problem at a short-term rental. Williams told her it would be the same as if there was a problem at a residence when police responded and if there were continuing problems, then code enforcement and city staff would look at revoking their business license.

The commissioners then voted to approve the permit.

Madison Street rental

Thomas then presented the property at 413 South Madison Street, which had similar features to the Maxwell Street property in that it was zoned as R-2 with a H-1 overlay and has existing parking. When it came time for public comment Michelle Bailey, the owner of the property, addressed the commission.

Bailey said she and her husband moved to town in the summer and invited her mother to live with them. Bailey said she wanted to use the house for an investment as a short-term rental but also for her three brothers from out of state who came to visit Bailey's mother.

After public comment the commissioners were given the chance to comment. None of the commissioners commented and the permit was approved.

Cypress Court rental

Thomas then presented the final property at 731 Cypress Court. The property is also zoned as R-2 and has existing parking. Public comment followed. Rosemary Junkermann, the agent for the owners of the property, spoke.

Junkermann said the property is a lovely house and is the second property the owners have. Junkermann said the property is completely safe and that the guidelines from Airbnb were strictly monitored through guest stays and comments on social media.

"I think that what people are not aware of with the Airbnb is it's it's pretty heavily monitored," Junkermann said. "It's very regulated through comments (on) social media and there are quite a few guidelines. So should there ever be any problems whatsoever first of all Airbnb will have a discussion with the owner."

Junkermann also said the owners are also available to come and monitor their guest stay at any time. Following public comment the commissioners were invited to comment, which they chose not to do. The commissioners then voted to approve the permits.

The commissioners also approved and heard the following items:

• Meeting minutes from the Nov. 8, 2022, planning commission.

• Significant development permit for 1995 E. Hwy 412. This item will go before the city board on Feb. 7.

• Preliminary plat development permit for the 3000 block of East Kenwood Street. This item will go before the city board on Feb. 7.

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