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Pool noise drives Paso's short-term rental complaints

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Four properties generated almost 70 percent of the 84 calls made to the Paso Robles short-term rentals complaint hotline over the last three years.

Most of those calls are noise complaints related to swimming pool use.

But the Paso Robles City Council decided against changing the city's short-term rental ordinance to restrict pool and hot tub use.

People are too sensitive, Councilmember Fred Strong said during the council's June 7 hearing, and they think the sounds are louder than they actually are. He said he constantly gets asked to come out to properties next to vacation rentals and listen to the noise levels.

"I've actually taken my decibel meter over there, and they're in compliance," he said. "The actual noise being created at their property line was legal, and that's a problem because perception sometimes drives reality."

The Paso Planning Commission recommended that the city amend its short-term rental ordinance to relegate pool and hot tub use to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. as part of a handful of other commission-suggested changes the council mulled over on June 7.

Two council members recused themselves from the hearing due to conflicts of interest: John Hamon is an executor of his mother's trust, which owns a short-term rental on 16th Street, and Steve Gregory said he operates "some vacation rentals downtown."

"Because we have two absent ... ," Mayor Steve Martin said, "whatever action taken will have to be unanimous for it to be effective."

In a 3-0 vote, the City Council opted to make minimal changes to the ordinance, removing its three-year sunset clause and extending the noticing requirement from 50 feet to 100 feet.

Martin said he would have considered making changes to the city's pool rules due to the number of complaints, but Strong said the city shouldn't put rules on some residential homes and not others.

Community Development Director Warren Frace told New Times that when the council initially passed the city's short-term rentals ordinance in 2019, it felt the same way. One of the points the council made at the time, Frace said, was that it didn't want a different set of rules for short-term rentals than other homes in the same residential areas of the city.

"And that's worked fairly well, but the one place that we've had some issues has been with swimming pools," he added. "For some of the short-term rentals that have pools, it seems like they are used more actively and intensely than they would be for a normal residential pool. ... Because someone new shows up every weekend excited to use the pool."

City staff does respond to the complaints and more often than not determines that "they're not violating the standard," Frace said. He added that Paso's noise ordinance allows normal neighborhood sounds during the day, such as people using the pool or kids screaming while they play, and quiet hours start at 10 p.m.

A couple of city residents who submitted public comment on the issue said their neighboring vacation rental guests often wake them up in the middle of the night by being drunk and rowdy.

"It's not the 10 a.m. issue," one Oak Street resident said during the June 7 meeting. "It's the 3 a.m., screaming at the top of their lungs, jumping in the swimming pool."

He added that his family lives on a block that now has four vacation rentals on it with another possibly on the way and questioned what the city was doing to prevent neighborhoods from being inundated with short-term rentals. While the city has no limit on the number of home-share or owner-occupied short-term rentals, Paso does cap the number of unoccupied vacation rentals allowed in the city at 325, with only 75 allowed in residentially zoned areas and the remainder allocated for the downtown corridor.

However, Frace said that cap isn't included in the city's short-term rentals ordinance. It's part of a separate resolution that the City Council will likely revisit later this year.

With 68 home-share vacation rentals permitted and all 325 short-term rental permits spoken for, Paso has about 70 people on the permit waiting list, Frace said. Currently, 108 short-term rentals are permitted in the residentially zoned areas of the city because existing rentals were grandfathered into the 2019 ordinance, Frace said. But over time, city staff expects that number to decrease, and as it does, those permits will be moved into the downtown area.

"We know that we have a couple areas of definite over-concentration there on the west side up in the hills, and those are R-1 [residential] zones, so there wouldn't be any increase in permits there in those neighborhoods, and ideally, over time, that concentration would decrease," Frace told New Times. Δ

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