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Burlington Ordinance Committee Reviews Proposals On Short Term Rental Rules And Decriminalizing Sex Workers

Burlington sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Sign in downtown Burlington

The Burlington, Vermont City Council’s ordinance committee met this week to review two controversial proposals to refer to the full council. One would decriminalize sex workers in the city and the other sets new rules for short-term rental units.

A proposal that amends the Burlington city charter regarding sex workers would strike clauses making houses of prostitution illegal or for any female to be a prostitute or male to consort with such a person. Ordinance committee chair Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason was questioned during public forum about a clause in the proposal stating: “No person shall permit his buildings or other place to be used, frequented or restored to by riotous or disorderly persons…..”

“My name is Corey Hendren. Does this suggest that you’re not allowed to have college kids having parties in buildings also? Having gone to college here and lived on King Street and partied on Buell and you name it boisterous, riotous and/or disorderly conduct was every weekend. So is that suggesting no college housing?”

Chair Mason responded, "No this is a tool, an enforcement tool. You could be issued a ticket for engaging in behavior. It’s not again targeted to you know it doesn’t matter if it’s a college student or a bunch of senior citizens. I mean if you’re engaged in this type of conduct this affords an opportunity to be given a civil violation.”

Committee members approved the proposed ordinance amendment as amended and referred it to the full council for a second reading with a recommendation for approval.

The bulk of the meeting then turned to a discussion on proposed amendments to the city’s short-term rental rules. City Planner Meagan Tuttle explained that the proposal includes changes to two sections of the city’s Code of Ordinances.

“The first is the zoning ordinance. The edits to the zoning ordinance include a definition of a short term rental. It allows short term rental as a special residential use in all zoning districts where residential uses are permitted. And it updates and clarifies the definitions and standards for other types of lodging." Tuttle continued, "In the Minimum Housing Code the changes on this section include a definition of a short term rental as a form of rental housing. It details the limits on short term rentals by buildings and when a host must live on site. And it establishes the requirement for short term rentals to register and pay an annual registration fee.”

After the city planner completed her presentation, committee members heard a number of comments from residents. Short-term rental host Julie Marks said after a year and a half the proposal is nearing a palatable compromise.

"However I would like to recommend some additional allowances for you to consider. And this is to really ensure that you’re not having the unintended consequences of harming somebody who is relying on this business or income who isn’t actually producing a negative impact on the city that you’re trying to avoid," said Marks. "For instance if the short term rental has not resulted in the loss of a long term rental why would you not want that short term rental to exist and provide a short term housing opportunity for visitors and additional tax revenue for the city?”

The ordinance committee took no action on the short-term rental proposal and will continue its line-by-line review.