Rentals, relief route options in the works

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Over the past few months, the four community visioning committees have met on a variety of issues facing the community and others that will face us in the near future. Later this year, the committees will develop long-range visions for dealing with some of these issues.

There are three important local issues that have been a major focus for many of the committee discussions: I will discuss efforts on two fronts this week — short-term rentals (STRs) and the proposed Gillespie County Relief Route. Next week, I will follow up with committee efforts on affordable housing, now referred to as “attainable housing.”

Short-term rentals (STRs)

With regard to short-term rentals, the city shares many of the concerns related to the numbers of short-term rentals, as well as the negative impacts from STRs in some residential neighborhoods.

We now estimate that we have over 700 short-term rentals in the city limits with the number increasing on a monthly basis. One of our concerns is that this change in use for these homes removes these units from the number of owner-occupied homes that we have in Fredericksburg. We understand that this reduction has an effect on attainable housing.

Our code enforcement officer and police department are getting more complaints about these rentals, involving parking, noise, garbage and other concerns. While many of the owners and rental companies do a great job in managing the use of their STRs, there are a number of owners who rent these units to individuals without proper background checks, rental guidelines or monitoring of their use.

This issue is a major priority of the city council and we are planning several different steps to address it.

First, we plan to make changes to our current short-term rental ordinance that will enhance our ability to enforce health and safety regulations on the owners of these properties. (We are currently reviewing STR regulations from other cities such as San Marcos and New Braunfels to determine best practices.)

In October, the council will meet to discuss changes to our ordinance, which we hope to adopt by the end of the year. We welcome any input that committee members and other citizens would like to offer on specific changes to our regulations.

As part of the ordinance changes, we will be proposing a new annual registration fee for STRs. If approved by the council, revenues from these fees will be used to hire a new full-time code enforcement officer.

This individual will be responsible for annual inspections of these rentals to make sure that they meet health and safety codes. This new employee will also enforce the new regulations and respond to citizen complaints.

Finally, one of the concerns with the STRs is that some of the owners do not pay their HOT tax which creates an unfair advantage over other lodging establishments. The city is proposing to retain new software services that will allow us to track all STRs to ensure that they are registered and paying their required HOT taxes.

Relief route

The proposed Gillespie County Relief Route is being addressed by the city and county working closely with the Texas Department of Transportation.

A City and County Relief Route Task Force has met for the past several years. Task force members understand that this is a major community concern that has existed for decades and is committed to moving forward on this project.

Based upon past conversations with TxDOT, the Task Force had hoped that a portion of the Relief Route could be built along Friendship Lane. However, about a year ago, TxDOT indicated that a relief route that is aligned with Friendship Lane represented a short-term solution to our truck and traffic congestion issues. Therefore, they decided that they would not support this location with state funding. TxDOT officials indicated that they wanted a more long-term solution which would move the route to an area south of Friendship Lane.

In order to determine the exact location, estimated costs, right of way requirements, and other information on the relief route, TxDOT has initiated a comprehensive feasibility study which should take 18-24 months to complete. The city and county are both contributing $50,000 toward this study with the state providing the majority of the funding.

The task force will work closely with the TxDOT consultant to ensure this study provides the information needed to make a local decision on whether or not to proceed with this project. There will be several public meetings over the next year to gain citizen input.

Once this study is completed, the city and/or county will be required to acquire the right-of-way (ROW) if we want this project to proceed to construction. The state is expected to provide funding for the construction of the roadway though it is uncertain when this funding will be available.

If and when the relief route is constructed, the state will take over the ownership and maintenance responsibility for this roadway and it will become part of U.S. Highway 290. The state expects that the current portion of U.S. through the city (Main Street) would then become a city roadway.

At this time, the city has no plans for how this portion of the current U.S. 290 roadway might change. One of the visioning committees is focused on the relief route and they may develop a long-range vision for Main Street.