Section: News

Gambier residents debate question of short-term rentals

The Gambier Village Council met Monday night to discuss potential bans on listing short-term rental properties, outlines for new Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas (DORAs) and ideas for future projects. 

The Council debated extensively about the Village’s recently drafted Gambier Zoning Ordinance, specifically the code related to short-term rentals. According to the current code, any residents offering short-term rental opportunities must maintain the unit as their official residence for at least 10 months during the year. Betsy Heer, a Village resident and former council member, raised concerns that an increasing number of properties remain empty for an extended period of time during the year, a predicament she attributed to the fact that several homes are listed as short-term rentals. Several meeting attendees voiced similar concerns. 

Heer argued that the increasing number of Airbnbs and short-term rental properties contributes to a greater number of absentee landlords, who leave behind empty houses and therefore do little to support Village businesses or communities. “It may not happen today or tomorrow, but eventually people won’t be living in this Village anymore, ” she said. She also raised concerns that as more property owners list their homes for short-term rentals, property values will likely increase. “It ends up pricing people out of the Village — people that have families that would put children back into the Village,” she said. She also asked the Council how it planned to enforce this rule because the current code does not provide details. 

The Council discussed the possibility of allowing full-time residents to also own other properties that they could rent as Airbnbs. Virtual attendee Kelene Richart P’23 (who lives full time in California but owns a property in Gambier that is listed for short-term rentals) expressed frustration in response to this proposal. “Now saying that as long as you own another property in Gambier you can have an Airbnb, those neighbors still then have absentee neighbors next to them. That doesn’t solve your problem,” she said. 

Village Solicitor Clinton Bailey also questioned the argument that full-time residents listing their properties for short-term rentals is less of a cause for concern than part-time residents listing their homes for short-term rentals. “I think of these scenarios as the same; if someone’s going to own property and only use it for a short-term rental, I don’t consider that different than if someone just occasionally offers their home for Airbnb,” he said. 

Richart also noted that even as part-time residents, she and her family value being a part of the Gambier community and are upset that they are not being treated as such. “[We] have learned to love the community — we eat with our neighbors when we’re there [and] have drinks,” she said. “It’s disheartening now to hear that we are, one, not considered part of the community, and that for some reason, we have less rights than people who do live in the community.”

One council member suggested that the Village implement a grandfather-like policy where properties that are already established short-term rentals can remain as such, but that new ones will not be allowed, and that when these properties are sold the new owners cannot list the residences as short-term rentals. The Council discussed this proposition for an extended period of time but was unable to reach any general consensus. Bailey, who tuned in virtually to the meeting, finally brought the conversation to a close by advising the Council to pass the code another night. “I don’t want to discourage or say you shouldn’t make substantive changes — I’m not in the room; [Village Council President Morgan Biles isn’t] in the room — I would hate to make big changes tonight,” he said. 

Besides this discussion, council member Alison Furlong proposed potential maps of new Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas (DORAs), areas where alcoholic beverages can be sold by licensed liquor establishments for outdoor consumption, for the Council to deliberate on where these areas would be and when and how their hours would be enforced. Furlong proposed different perimeters such as Acland Street, Duff Street and the Lowry Center, or possibly to the south end of Kenyon’s campus. The Council also discussed whether DORA days and hours would be regular or would only be on holidays or for special events. A few large issues they anticipated were clean-up, enforcement and signage. The Council plans to continue this conversation at future meetings. 

Finally, the Council discussed potential projects for the upcoming year. One council member described the current dangers of walking on Ward Street and proposed adding a sidewalk to the street’s west side, which borders College property. “It’s so dangerous, both ways — at night especially,” she said. “When you pop up over that hill there are students all the time just walking at night.” The council members also expressed a desire to address parking issues at future meetings, especially those on the North side of campus, where several members noted that spaces are limited. “I’m hoping some redistricting can help, up at the North end, up at our end where people are using it as parking,” a council member said. 


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