Whitefish ponders short-term rental, hotel restrictions

May 6, 2019

The Whitefish City Council will look at ways to further regulate or limit short-term rentals throughout the city during a work session today.

The City Council asked for an informal meeting with staff to review not only short-term rental regulations but also restrictions on hotels in the WB-2, or business zone. In preparation for the session that begins at 6 p.m., Whitefish Planning Director Dave Taylor and City Attorney Angela Jacobs issued a memorandum detailing the current regulations and offering comparisons with regulations in other cities.

Whitefish has regulated and restricted short-term, or vacation rentals since the 1980s and is more stringent than most communities, according to the memorandum. Such rentals are only allowed in the WB-3 business district and in designated resort zoning districts. Short-term rentals are prohibited in all other zones, including both the rental of an entire dwelling unit as well as the rental of a bedroom in an owner-occupied dwelling.

“Most other communities were not as visionary and are just now trying to regulate short-term rentals in the traditional residential zoning districts,” Taylor and Jacobs noted. “Whitefish utilizes both locational and qualitative restrictions, as they are by far the easiest to administer and enforce.

There are currently 218 short-term rentals listed in STR Helper, with 163 legally permitted. The memorandum noted some of the unpermitted rentals just came online in the spring, ramping up for summer; some may be in proper zones but haven’t registered; some are 30-day minimum rentals in traditional residential zones, and some are outside city limits.

Regarding hotels, they’re allowed as a permitted use in the WB-2 zone. However, if a hotel or motel exceeds a 15,000-square-foot footprint, a conditional-use permit is required.

If the council wants to further regulate hotels, Taylor and Jacobs offered two options: move them from permitted to conditionally permitted use; or reduce the permit threshold from 15,000 to 10,000 square feet.

“That would restrict larger hotels/motels, requiring them to go through a public process, but would also affect any existing and future uses in the WB-2, requiring a public process for all buildings or expansion of buildings” with the same square-footage threshold, the memorandum noted.

No formal decisions are made during a work session.

In other business, the council has six public hearings on the agenda:

• Sage Partners LLC is asking for a preliminary plat for a six-lot subdivision at 415 ½ Colorado Avenue.

• IO2.5 LLC wants a conditional-use permit for a nine-lot subdivision at 2041 River Lakes Parkway, known as Under the Crescent Moon. A separate hearing will address a preliminary plat for the proposed subdivision.

• Whitefish Hotel Group is asking for a conditional-use permit to expand the footprint of the Firebrand Hotel in downtown Whitefish.

• Two hearings will deal with small wireless facilities. The first proposal is an ordinance adding a chapter to city code regulating small wireless facilities; the second hearing is a proposed resolution approving fees for small wireless facilities.

The meeting begins at 7:10 p.m. at Whitefish City Hall.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.