The Half Moon Bay Planning Commission last week voted unanimously to approve the final draft for its short-term vacation rental and home occupation ordinance. Though the plan places no capacity restrictions on the number of short-term rental units, it does limit the type of dwelling that can be rented and how residents qualify to operate them.

The commissioners decided to reexamine the number of short-term rentals at two six-month intervals and then every year if necessary. Commissioners also requested two amendments to the draft: a more flexible timetable — around 20 minutes — to respond in person to complaints and to make primary residency requirements clearer in the Commercial-Downtown zone.

The decision is another step in a long process that began when the Planning Commission began study sessions in March 2018. The Half Moon Bay City Council will discuss the ordinance at a public hearing on Aug. 17. If it’s adopted, it will be sent to the California Coastal Commission for certification sometime in September or October.

Commissioners said they believed the ordinance struck a balance between preserving neighborhoods while providing economic benefit to residents.

A key element of the ordinance is the primary residency requirement. For a unit to be allowed for a short-term rental, the primary owner or long-term tenant must prove they live on the property for at least six months out of the year. This requirement does not apply to a limited number of residential units in the Commercial-Downtown and Commercial-General zoning districts, single-family residences, or one unit in a mixed-use development with two or more units. Duplexes and triplexes are allowed, but at least one of the units must be the primary residence of the property owner.

Under the ordinance, accessory dwelling units could not be short-term rentals unless they were grandfathered in before the policy is certified. It requires that short-term rentals must be in operation and in good standing for at least three months before the Coastal Commission’s certification to qualify. City staff said this should allow previous operators who stopped renting because of the pandemic to reopen. Existing rental units will have six months from certification to register their units for building and fire code inspections.

Part of the reason for the ordinance is a concern with housing supply, and staff and commissioners repeatedly mentioned feedback they’d heard regarding how a shortage of housing would drive up already high prices. Planning Commissioner Rick Hernandez said that while the ordinance limited economic benefit for owners, it still allowed for local commercial use while preserving neighborhood integrity.

“The purpose of the housing stock is to provide housing, not to provide commercial uses,” Hernandez said.

Commissioner David Gorn said he approved of short-term rentals, but stressed that when the city revisited the policy, it should take a hard look at determining how many rentals should be allowed within the next few years.

“I don’t want to see the hotels disadvantaged,” Gorn said. “And I don’t want to see the neighborhoods change as a result of huge numbers of short-term rentals.”

There are 50 short-term rentals currently operating in the city and 102 in total since 2018, according to data compiled by the city. Some rental owners at the meeting said the ordinance was an unnecessary overreach on their property rights. Joe Junkin, a Menlo Park resident who began renting a unit in Half Moon Bay in 2014 for “a wide range of incomes,” told commissioners the ordinance limited affordable options for visiting families.

“The proposed restrictions will deny less affluent families the ability to gather in a private home in a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood and restrict access to the trails and beaches of Half Moon Bay to nonresidents,” Junkin said.

This zoning code amendment is backed by the Coastal Commission’s approval of the city’s Local Coastal Land Use Plan. Because the ordinance is listed as minor alterations to land use limitations, it’s exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, said Community Development Director Jill Ekas.

“Housing stock preservation is the foundation of this ordinance,” Ekas said. “We’re taking that very seriously as the direction from the City Council, who has continued to identify affordable housing as a priority.”

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