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Our View: Don't stifle vacation rentals

Airbnb-style vacation rentals proved popular in Duluth in 2017, and city leaders now are wrestling with how to respond, as a story in Sunday's News Tribune detailed.

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

Airbnb-style vacation rentals proved popular in Duluth in 2017, and city leaders now are wrestling with how to respond, as a story in Sunday's News Tribune detailed.

How to respond? Responsibly encouraging an emerging and growing new industry that's contributing to the local economy seems a no-brainer. The Duluth Planning Commission and Duluth City Council can seize the opportunity to do just that, but they'll need a bit of compromise between what now are two very different proposals for what happens next.

Councilor Noah Hobbs wants to double, from 60 to 120, the number of vacation-rental licenses the city issues to properties not occupied by their owners. There's no limit on owner-occupied vacation rentals; living on the property, they can better keep an eye on things.

Meanwhile, Councilor Joel Sipress "would not support increasing the cap" at all, he said in Sunday's story. "We've only recently reached the cap (in August), and the cap was put in place to make sure we had some protections for neighbors and neighborhoods. The cap also was put in place to make sure that we would have a chance to see the impact of the trend toward more and more vacation rentals on our housing market and on our neighborhoods."

Sipress' concerns about the impacts on neighborhoods and housing - including, especially, affordable housing - can be applauded citywide. No one wants to live next door to what turns out to be a party house. And no one wants to see a harmful decline in the availability of rentals for all income levels.

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But such concerns can be addressed and can be monitored while also allowing modest industry growth, as is being dictated by current market demand. Stifling the rights of property owners and their ability to use their investments as they want isn't necessary.

At the same time, doubling the number of vacation-rental licenses, as Hobbs suggested, seems unwieldy and even potentially unmanageable.

So how about more-modest, easier-to-monitor growth? Say a 10 percent annual increase in the number of licenses? And with annual reviews of complaints and feedback from neighbors and others about how things are going? That 10 percent would be in line with the annual expansion of vacation rentals, as Keith Hamre, director of planning and construction services for the city of Duluth, said in Sunday's story.

In the first year of Airbnb rentals in Duluth, the city received just one complaint related to a guest. That's with approximately 9,530 people using the online Airbnb service to book stays in Duluth, according to the company. Duluth was its third-most-popular destination in Minnesota in 2017 behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul.

With requirements in place for off-street parking, for the screening of outdoor activities so they don't disturb nearby neighbors, and more, things clearly are going well for the vacation-rental industry in Duluth - at least early on.

And that's all the more reason to resist stifling and to support instead the manageable growth of an industry pumping cash into local coffers.

Related Topics: DULUTH PLANNING COMMISSION
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