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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Short-Term Rentals Take Center Stage In Property Rights Debate In Washington County

A photo of a public meeting.
Lexi Peery
The Washington County Planning Commission held a public meeting on Tuesday to vote on an ordinance related to short-term rentals.

Washington County hit pause on new short-term rentals in the spring. Now, the county is working on updating its code in an effort to balance property rights of rental owners and their surrounding neighbors.

The planning commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday to recommend approval of an ordinance that includes licensing requirements and outlines building size limits for short-term rentals. The commission’s decision comes after several public meetings, including a hearing earlier this month that lasted nearly four hours.

Many people at Tuesday’s meeting were unhappy with the planning commission’s decision, including St. George resident Denise Christensen. She has a short-term rental in Pine Valley.

“Of course, we want to be good neighbors — we want to be good for the whole community,” she said, “but we feel like we should have the opportunity to choose what we want to do with our own property.”

Scott Messel, the county’s community development director, said there are over 5,500 short-term rentals countywide — which includes cities and towns — but only around 30 rentals in the unincorporated parts of the county are registered with a business license.

He said the county has gotten “a lot” of comments and complaints from people about Airbnbs and other short-term rentals being in their neighborhoods. Messel said the previous code didn’t have many guidelines or restrictions for these kinds of properties.

Despite the decision made Tuesday, Messel said the ordinance is seen as a “living document.”

“The county’s going through growing pains right now,” he said.“Some parts of the ordinance are really old and have been in place for years. ... So, we have tons of ordinances to look at and to always be making changes [to].”

Planning Commission Chair Brandon Anderson said the county’s code is more lenient than other places, but he didn’t expect anyone to be happy with the commission’s decision.

“It's a pretty 50/50 side here where people feel like their property rights are being affected,” he said. “I think with this ordinance, it's a start to try to get this mediated between the two. … It really comes down to respect. It comes down to respecting the property owners and the neighbor owners and so everybody can live together.”

The county commission will likely to vote on it next month.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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