After the COVID-19 pandemic put its efforts on hold, a committee created to study issues around short-term rentals in the city-parish is planning to reconvene later this month.
The makeup of the study group, broadly created through a Metro Council resolution in 2019, has changed, however. Several members of the original group were not asked to be a part of the committee in its new iteration, including the leaders of two historic neighborhood associations, Preserve Louisiana Executive Director Fairleigh Jackson and Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo.
Planning Director Ryan Holcomb, who is helping spearhead the committee, says one of his priorities for 2021 is to resume the effort to draft a short-term rental ordinance for the city-parish, and that he and the leadership of the Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations felt a smaller working group would be more effective in getting things done.
The original committee, which was created by Nancy Curry, past president of the FGBRCA, had 12 members. The new one will have just seven: Ed Legucki, current president of the FGBRCA; a representative from the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors; a short-term rental host; an attorney for Airbnb; and representatives from the Louisiana Bed and Breakfast Association, the Baton Rouge Lodging Association, and the downtown area.
Holcomb says he and Legucki downsized the committee “in an effort to make a smaller, more manageable working group that had balanced representation for the entire parish.”
But Jackson, who was involved in helping New Orleans draft its short-term rental ordinance in 2018, says the new committee is not balanced in its representation and that the preservation community needs to have a seat at the table.
“I have put a good deal of effort into these discussions with the previous council member who proposed the group and with the group based on extensive work in the short-term rental arena with colleagues in New Orleans and across the country around the impacts of short-term rentals from a historic preservation perspective,” Jackson says. “The impact of short-term rentals that are not regulated thoughtfully, as noted within our historic preservation perspective, include actual physical impact to structures and infrastructure in historic communities, disintegration of historic integrity in historic districts, displacement of residents of traditional and long-rooted communities, and many other things.”
Legucki says that while the group welcomes the perspective of the preservation community, he questions the relevance of the New Orleans model to Baton Rouge.
“Is New Orleans the right model to consider?” he says. “Or, should we look to a municipality that is of similar size and has a similar kind of tourist draw, which is a university, seat of government, versus a major tourist destination like New Orleans?”
Baton Rouge, following the lead of many cities, began looking at the issue of short-term rentals in 2019, following an outcry from residents of Spanish Town concerned about the increase in short-term rentals and the impact it was having on the historic neighborhood.
Former Council member Tara Wicker, who then represented the downtown area, sponsored the resolution that created the study group. It only met twice in early 2020 and didn’t accomplish much, Holcomb says.
The new group doesn’t yet have a date for its first meeting or a timeline for getting things done.
“It’s in its infancy but I am committed to a fair and transparent process,” Holcomb says.