WINONA LAKE — The town of Winona Lake is looking into getting out in front of a new money-making trend that has participants flying in under the commercial tax radar.
Airbnb, an online marketplace that facilitates the renting of private residences for vacation stays, has been a subject of debate at the Indiana Statehouse.
According to Winona Lake Town Coordinator Craig Allebach, people who are renting out their private dwellings to travelers are doing so without regulation. The Indiana Legislature has addressed the issue and the town of Carmel passed an ordinance trying to regulate the practice on its own without state oversight.
Allebach passed out “a sample ordinance of what Carmel has done. The reason why is that we’re working now with state statutes trying to figure out exactly what can be done and not done and there might be issues that (Town Attorney) Jim (Walmer) may want to look at,” Allebach said.
“They’ve had quite a problem throughout the state and so I think that when we looked at this a year or so ago, we really didn’t know for sure if it was a problem and if it is, we were kind of waiting to see what the state did,” Allebach continued.
“I know there is some concern in the Carmel ordinance and the local tax revenue streams here locally that these Airbnbs or temporary overnight places should be licensed in the sense that they need to pay a fee every year. That will do one thing, it will identify who they are. Number two is it will identify they need to be paying the innkeepers tax. I know there are some innkeepers as well as some recipients of innkeeper dollars that are upset that this tax is not being collected. So, maybe we allow it, but we make sure they are paying this tax.”
The issue of Airbnbs in the Winona Lake area was left for future discussion.
In other business, the commission:
- Elected officers. Dave Turner was named chair of the commission and Jill Serbousek was named vice chair.
- Discussed the town’s comprehensive plan. “The council had approved a consultant, which is MACOG (Michigan Area Council of Governments), to come in and do a comprehensive plan for the town,” said Allebach. “We met with MACOG yesterday and we’re in the process of identifying key stakeholders.” Allebach said that a committee of those identified stakeholders will be formed in the next month or more. “Then, probably in the summer some time, we’re going to be following that up with surveys as well as public meetings to get input from not only various boards, but also members of the community. We will have all types of media related to that plan to kind of see where we want to go in the next five to 10 years in the short term and then maybe beyond that. This particular body will be one of the bodies that will be key in that and will eventually, ultimately, approve that plan, which will then be passed on to the town council.” Allebach estimated the comprehensive plan could be completed in about a year. “I think it’s exciting to get started on this comprehensive plan,” said Turner. “It’s something that we’ve needed for a long time so this is a good move.”
- Discussed whether or not to change the standard size of a parking space. “Twenty feet is not sufficient for a parking space,” said Building Commissioner Gene Seiman. “I encourage this board to develop a new requirement due to the increasing number of rentals, that are continuing to increase all the time, that we establish a requirement where all existing rental arrangements will be required to develop off-street parking where they can reasonably. There’s a lot of relief that can be accomplished simply by people being willing to throw some gravel down in an area and create a space or two where now they’re being forced to go out into the public right of way.”
- Discussed the storage of certain materials on commercial properties. “There are at least three locations within the town limits where commercial products, either new or used, are being stored in the open and these are either in residential areas or at least close to residential areas,” said Seiman. “There is nothing that says they cannot be.”
- Discussed whether the town wanted to begin restricting the number of vehicles to include trailers and boats that can be stored on a given property.
- Announced future meetings of the board, at 7 p.m. May 15 and at 4:30 p.m. May 24.