Last week the Town Council changed direction at the last moment and amended the District 2 LDR’s to add short-term rentals to the bonus FAR’s, which would add between 1.1 and 2.4 million square feet of commercial lodging to the downtown core. This is the equivalent of 11-24 new Marriott hotels in the downtown core alone.
This is not only unacceptable, but it’s also a betrayal of the trust of the many citizens who spent time, energy and money to get the county and the town to agree to limit commercial growth to the levels envisioned in the 1994 Comp Plan.
It came as a shock to most residents. With virtually no public input, four members of the council relied on an incorrect and incomplete “analysis” of a single property. This information was supplied, naturally, by a developer with a vested interest in that property. Over the weekend, the council (with the exception of Jim Stanford), decided to renege on their agreement with the County and amend the LDR’s to allow a massive increase in lodging potential.
Housing and planning expert Rich Bloom conducted his own analysis and concluded that not only would this not increase the stock of affordable housing, but that it would create the need for an addition 42 units just to keep up. And it would convert between 1 and 2 million square feet of free market housing into lodging. Why would anyone want that? Well, Bloom also calculates that this decision would potentially give the developer a windfall of up to $3 million. Who pays for that? The taxpayer does, because the taxpayer will be the one stuck paying for the impacts.
Councilman Stanford knew that at a minimum, professional analysis of this massive change needed to done before any decision was made. He voted no. But the mayor and three council members decided to forgo proper due diligence and accept a shoddy analysis done by a developer with a conflict of interest. They then moved quickly and without public input to quietly include it.
This is the kind of politics voters detest; handouts to wealthy and influential people who lobby the council to get a deal which will make them more money at taxpayer expense, done behind the public’s back and hoping not to be noticed. The council must reverse course and stick with the commitment they made to the voters to limit additional commercial growth.