People organized themselves on opposite sides of the Fort Worth City Council chambers at a public comment meeting July 27: those favoring short-term rental advocates squared off against those opposed.
The public comment meeting was intended to give city staff a better sense of public sentiment, but the lectern faced the crowd, not the staff. Commenters often addressed their comments directly to the opposite side of the room, at times creating a simmering tension that never quite boiled over.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, 27 spoke against short-term rentals; 15 voiced support for them. Residents may attend another virtual public comment meeting Thursday, July 28.
If you go:
The city will hold another virtual public comment meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 28. A panel from the City will answer questions on how the City will address short-term rentals. Participants can submit questions using email, phone and text.
“Communities are about residents, not vacationers,” Luisa Masters, president of the South Hills South neighborhood association, said.
“We encourage you to allow others to make a choice of where they want to stay in Fort Worth,” Janel Simons, who operates a short-term rental in Fort Worth, said.
The meeting’s purpose was to give residents a variety of ways to provide thoughts and concerns to the city, said Amethyst Sloane, community engagement manager with the city. Despite the prevailing “pro”or ”anti” sentiment at the meeting, the city is looking for common themes in the feedback they received — rather than a headcount of views, Sloane said.
The city offered commenters four policy options to speak in support or opposition. While option 1 garnered the majority of support from speakers, many opted to suggest their own policy options instead of throwing their weight behind the four proposals. Option 1 would continue using the city’s current ordinance.
Before the start of the public comment portion of the meeting, assistant city manager Dana Burghdoff gave attendees a peek at the thought process of city staff and council. Through outlining the city’s goals for the new short-term rental policy, Burghdoff revealed the city’s No. 1 priority.
“Preserve residential quality of neighborhoods and protect from commercial lodging encroachment,” Burghdoff said.
Council members have also signaled a desire to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy, Burghdoff said, instead of tailoring a policy to specific regions of the city.
Following a final virtual public comment meeting scheduled Thursday night, city staff will distill sentiments from four in-person and virtual meetings, the results of a survey and a data mining effort meant to find out how many short-term rentals are currently operating in Fort Worth.
City staff will take the various inputs of public comments and review them with the goal of helping city council understand the major concerns on every side of the issue. The goal is to give decision-makers the opportunity to seek additional feedback.
Fort Worth City Council will receive the summarized information at a work session in mid-August. Then, the City Council will choose to maintain the existing policy, or make changes.
Meeting attendees questioned the survey’s results following reports that the survey was distributed to a network of short-term rental operators nationally and that some residents were taking the survey multiple times, potentially skewing the results.
The city will relay the results of the survey alongside concerns from residents about the validity of the results.
“Every response is in some way legitimate depending on your perspective,” Sloane said. “That is the reason that we provide so many different opportunities to (provide feedback).”
“Everything that comes back to us is looked at by a person for meaning so that we can make sure we’re using that in a way that’s good for decision-makers,” Sloane said.
Comments from short-term rental advocates focused on the entrepreneurial aspects of operating an Airbnb or VRBO house, emphasized a willingness to be regulated and the residential nature of using a house as a short-term rental, citing a Texas Supreme Court case.
“The length of time someone sleeps in a home does not change the nature of said property,” Lauren Brady, president of the short-term rental alliance, said.
Opponents of Airbnb and VRBO rentals asked the city to stick with its current ordinance, commenting on the ongoing housing crisis they said is exacerbated by short-term rentals, negative personal experiences with rentals, and waning community cohesion caused by the rentals.
“One short-term rental is one less place for my family to live,” Katrina Perez Titze, a single mother who opposes loosening policies, said.
Other speakers wondered aloud if council members, who were absent from the meeting for their July break, would seriously consider community members’ input.
“Hopefully they will view these tapes,” Michael Johnston, who opposes short-term rentals, said.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.