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County wants to ‘level rental playing field’

Tim Croft

The Board of County Commissioners seeks to tighten the rules on those who are not abiding by them in the first place.

Among the most contentious issues for commissioners after the shutdown of beaches and vacation rentals, by order of the governor as commissioners repeatedly noted, most centered on those renting homes for vacation rentals despite the ban.

Those following the rules wanted better enforcement, those not exactly abiding by the rules were, as Administrator Michael Hammond said, renting “under the table.”

License plates in the Port City Shopping Center provided substantial evidence.

And many visitors originated from hot spot states such as New York and Louisiana, not to mention, Hammond noted, the bed taxes not paid.

“It was hurting companies who were following the rules,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan.

Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with an ordinance which would address a host of issues related to short-term vacation rentals and who and how they are rented.

Hammond noted that the county’s plan for re-opening vacation rentals, required by the governor, was among the first submitted and approved last week.

Among the provisions of the plan, Hammond noted, were recommendations for cleaning and sanitizing and increased inspections in turning over rooms.

Those regulations and standards commercial rental agencies already follow.

However, for “mom-and-pop” homeowners and those who use vacation rental agencies such as VRBO, the county has no mechanism for knowledge or enforcement.

“We don’t know who these folks are that are renting,” Hammond said. “We need to know who they are and we need that safety component that is in our plan.”

Under the proposed ordinance all those offering short-term vacation rentals must register annually with the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.

The registration fee would be $100; $25 to the TDC for the paperwork and $75 to the building department for inspections.

Commissioner Ward McDaniel wondered if commissioners should take the ordinance a step further and require an occupational license.

McCroan, however, cautioned about placing construction trades and services under such regulation.

Commission Chair Sandy Quinn, Jr., also made it clear that commissioners had little sympathy for those flouting the rules or calling and emailing who were not Gulf County residents.

“We were getting blowed-up by folks who don’t even live in Gulf County,” Quinn said, underscoring the fact that the county was adhering to the directions from state and federal officials.

“Everybody needs to follow the rules.”

Dollar Store

Commissioners approved a Planning and Development Review Board recommendation to permit the construction of a Dollar Store at the corner of Field of Dreams Drive and U.S. 98 opposite the hospital.

The county and city of Port St. Joe had been tussling over potential annexation of the five acres for the Dollar Store, with the county threatening litigation over density concerns if the city pursued annexation.

The Dollar Store, over 10,000 square feet, will sit on two acres with no plans to develop the other three acres, representatives of the project said Tuesday.

Hammond added that since there would be no change in density annexation was no longer an issue.

Commissioners will consider an ordinance formalizing the small-scale land use change (the land is zoned commercial) during their June meeting.