Ticking clock on STRs could spawn rezoning boom

Short-term rentals, like this one picture on Gauthier Street, face a new April 1 deadline to apply for permits from Lafayette Consolidated Government. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Editor’s note: This story contained an incorrect deadline for STRs to cease operating in single-family zones when it appeared in The Wire on Feb. 14. The correct deadline is Oct. 6. We regret the error.

The gist: Lafayette’s new short-term rental rules take effect April 1, leaving many owners with two options: get rezoned or get out of the business. That opened the door to potentially scores of costly, time-consuming rezoning applications to accommodate existing STRs that could cause problems for the City Council.

STRs will soon be banned from single-family neighborhoods, which account for around 75% of Lafayette’s residential areas, after the City Council passed the city’s first rules for them last year. Previously, STRs didn’t need permits from Lafayette Consolidated Government and weren’t restricted from any parts of town, allowing about 380 STRs to pop up around the city over the past decade plus.

Roughly 150 STRs are in Residential Single-Family (RS) zoning districts, where it will become unlawful for them to operate on Oct. 6. The rest have until April 1 to apply for a $100 annual permit from LCG to continue operating in other parts of the city.

Rezoning is the only option for STR owners who don’t want to give up their business or break the new laws, and they’ll need to do it to apply for a permit before April 1. But it’s a lengthy, expensive process that is fraught with risk. Rezonings are a regular point of controversy at council meetings as residents generally oppose changes to what’s allowed in their neighborhoods. The council must vote on every rezoning, and it typically defers to the council member who represents those neighbors and regularly concedes to residents’ concerns.

The new STR rules are one example. Support for the ban on STRs in single-family neighborhoods among unhappy neighbors and opposition to it among STR operators were relatively even last fall. But after months of back-and-forth, the City Council voted 4-1 to approve the ban pushed by Councilman Andy Naquin, whose district includes many of the most vocal STR advocates and opponents.

Now, a largely new City Council faces a different prospect: picking winners. The first STR rezoning — an owner-occupied home in Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux’s district — is up for a vote next week. At its introduction a week ago, Boudreaux, who supports the rezoning, warned that the new STR rules had opened the floodgates for similar rezonings and would lead to accusations of political patronage.

“I’m going to have trouble voting one way in one instance because it’s going to look very targeted. It’s going to come across as cherry picking, and it’s going to look very spotty where things can happen and things can’t happen,” Boudreaux said. “And I think there’s going to be trouble for LCG on down the road.”

This is LCG’s first STR-related rezoning, but interim Community Planning & Development Director Anne Famoso told the council that more are expected in the coming weeks. That could further escalate after the April 1 permit application deadline and again when the ban in RS zones takes effect in October. 

What to watch for: More STR rezoning applications and (potential) fights between owners and neighbors over whether the council should allow them. Changes to the single-family STR ban are also possible, since the council can adjust how the prohibition plays out for existing owners or revise it to include a process that doesn’t involve the costs, time or risks of rezoning.