Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner promised the owner of the bright yellow home marketed on the vacation rental website Airbnb as the “Mardi Gras House” that city regulation of short-term rental properties is not on the horizon.
However, he also said he couldn’t promise that would remain the case forever.
The Mardi Gras homeowner, Craig Hallenstein, came forward during the public comment segment of last week’s Woodstock City Council meeting and pleaded with officials to keep in place the city’s current lax regulations for small vacation lodging businesses on traditionally residential properties such as his.
No considerations of furthering oversight for homes rented through websites such as Airbnb and VRBO were on any city agendas. Nevertheless, Hallenstein wanted to raise the topic after catching wind the city was in talks with a hotel developer about a potential construction project and fearing the city could be pressured into regulating short-term rentals.
One developer is looking at building lodging and commercial space along Route 14 in Woodstock, and the Chicago Bears’ recent step toward moving to Arlington Heights has sparked predictions among northwest suburban leaders that the lodging industry in the region, including McHenry County, could see a boost by such a change.
Hallenstein told the Woodstock City Council last week that he “got stung before” by New Orleans intensifying regulations that impacted a vacation rental property he operated in that city.
Many cities where short-term rentals have proliferated have taken to putting up some barriers regarding who can run them and how often they can be rented. The Times-Picayune reported in 2019 that New Orleans limited vacation rentals to being at owner-occupied properties, restricted rentals in buildings with commercial uses and banned them outright in most of the city’s French Quarter and Garden District.
Hotel operators have lobbied for prohibitions and rules to weigh down short-term home rentals.
“Certainly, I think we ought to be able to attract a high-quality hotel in this town based on our demographics and all of the amenities that we know and cherish in Woodstock, without having to sacrifice the little people who have been driving at least a little bit of economic development in the past,” Hallenstein said.
Turner said he would not accept such an agreement with a hotel developer to start city regulation of short-term rentals based on a promise to build lodging.
“As a personal user of Airbnbs for a long time, I would have no support for any restrictions on Airbnb,” Turner said. “I want a hotel here because a hotel’s here, I want an Airbnb here because it’s an Airbnb.”
He added that he could see why the city in the future may take up discussion of regulations of noise levels at short-term rentals and perhaps what parts of the city they should be allowed in. So far, no talks about writing rules on such topics have started.
“What I’m saying is I can’t say never any kind of city oversight from that perspective on Airbnbs. But as it relates to cutting a deal with a hotel where they somehow get us to pass an ordinance to say no Airbnbs, no support from me on that,” Turner said.