At the end of the Aug. 13 Planning & Economic Development Committee meeting, Council member and committee Chair Julie Mayfield offered some culinary advice to an angry crowd of roughly 80 people who had gathered in the U.S. Cellular Center banquet hall. “Honey works better than vinegar,” she remarked. “You can yell at us all day long if you want to; I’m going to suggest it’s not a particularly effective method of advocacy.”
The meeting’s attendees, the majority of whom seemed to be engaged in operating a homestay in the city, had been venting their frustration over the city’s definition of a kitchen, which many said had created unnecessary barriers to the use of their properties. Under a January amendment to city zoning regulations, any room or suite containing a kitchen may not be used as a guest room; this change was meant to keep such spaces in the city’s long-term housing supply.
According to the current definition, any area “used or designed to be used for the preparation or cooking of food” and containing “a sink less than 18 inches in depth with a waste line drain 1½ inches or greater in diameter” is classified as a kitchen. But homestay operators said the rule was unrealistic and had caused conflict with city staff over enforcement, prompting the committee to ask staff for a review of the ordinance in July.
“I think that the city is in over its head,” said resident Brandee Boggs. “I appreciate [Principal Planner] Shannon Tuch and [Code Enforcement Officer] Shannon Morgan and y’all’s time and energy you’ve put toward this; I think I can speak for all of us that we’ve lost faith in the city government around this issue,” she continued to applause from the audience, which Mayfield quickly raised a hand to quiet.
Other regulatory aspects also came under fire. Resident Tamera Trexler cited city language that prevented her, as an Airbnb co-host, from leaving the property “on vacation, visiting friends or family, traveling out of town for business or personal reasons, etc.” whenever the homestay was rented. “You have put me on house arrest!” she read from a prepared statement.
“There is nothing that says you can’t go on vacation,” Mayfield said, in apparent contradiction of the zoning standard. “Shannon Morgan stood in my kitchen and told me that,” one audience member interjected from the crowd.
In response to an Xpress request for clarification, Development Services Director Ben Woody confirmed that the ordinance does require the long-term resident’s overnight presence during homestay activities. “However, the ordinance does not restrict the resident from conducting daily business,” Woody added. “The resident can travel overnight but must suspend homestay operations when he or she is not present overnight.”
Although the committee cut off public comment before all those in line had a chance to speak, citing the need for Council member Vijay Kapoor to catch a flight, it did recommend that staff throw out the kitchen sink from the current definition. Joined by Council member Gwen Wisler, Kapoor and Mayfield moved to adopt staff’s “maximum flexibility” definition for kitchen, which reads as follows:
“Kitchen means an area within a structure that is used or designed to be used for the preparation or cooking of food and that contains cooking appliances including, but not limited to: ovens, convection ovens, stoves, stove tops, built-in grills or similar appliances.”
However, the committee also directed staff to move forward with tightening a number of other standards, including those for the permitted uses of bedrooms, prohibition of homestays in accessory dwelling units and consequences for zoning violations. Staff estimated that the changes will next come up for consideration at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 3.