Council approves first short-term rental rezoning

Ashley Thom Lecky is the first short-term rental owner in Lafayette to successfully rezone an STR after new rules passed last year banned STRs from single family zoning districts. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Lafayette’s City Council approved the first rezoning to accommodate an existing short-term rental, opening the door for dozens more that face closure this year. But other STRs may have to navigate a more fraught path to continue operating in single-family neighborhoods. 

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to rezone the historic Hanley-Gueno House on Sterling Street from single-family to residential mixed-used to allow owner Ashley Thom Lecky to continue operating the short-term rental she’s run there for the past five years. 

“I don’t live far from this. I pass by it every day, and I know what it once was before they obtained the house. This has improved the community. It hasn’t taken away in this instance, on this case,” City Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, whose district includes the property, said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “I do not intend to put a blanket over everything that is good going on for the sake of something bad that happened.”

Lecky’s case is the first STR rezoning under new rules passed by the City Council last year. Those rules require owners of existing STRs to apply for a permit from Lafayette Consolidated Government by April 1 to continue operating within city limits. But they also prohibit STRs from operating in single-family zoning districts effective Oct. 6, banning them from 75% of the city’s residential areas. That leaves roughly 150 existing STRs in single-family neighborhoods with two options: get rezoned or get out of the business. 

But the Sterling Street case may not be a sign of what’s to come since the stars appear to have aligned for its rezoning. The 1901 home’s historic status, broad support among City Council members and lack of opposition from neighbors made it a rezoning unicorn. 

“I know all my neighbors. I have relationships with all of them, and I communicate with them on a regular basis,” says Lecky, who’s lived on the property since 2007 and invested tens of thousands of dollars into renovating it. “So I reached out to all of them to let them know what I was going to do, what I was going to request and why, and they have been supportive.”

That was critical for Lecky, whose rezoning has taken three months and thousands of dollars. Rezonings are costly, time-consuming and fraught with risk since they frequently draw vocal opposition from nearby residents who can often convince the council to concede to their concerns. That’s a process that needs to be fixed as the city contemplates a rush of similar applications ahead of the deadlines facing similar STRs later this year, City Councilman Thomas Hooks said Tuesday, calling it an unintended consequence of the city’s new STR rules. 

“We should really, from my perspective, discourage this from being the avenue to deal with these types of issues,” Hooks said. “I don’t want that to be read as pro-STR or anti-STR. It’s really about what’s a good policy tool. This does not feel like it, in terms of rezoning individual lots for particular uses. I think we will see more of these, [and] I think we’ll need a better answer than the rezoning process.”