Recent complaints about a property on Park Boulevard have contributed to Worthington leaders trying to tighten code language regarding the use of “tourist homes,” which are prohibited in the city.

Meanwhile, the married couple who live at the house are challenging the city on the code and whether it specifically denies such activity.

Jacqueline Gargus and Tom Huff of 142 Park Blvd. are seeking relief from the statutory ban on “tourist homes,” including an Airbnb, which they operated at their home until recently.

“We feel their laws are not directly applicable,” Huff said.

Lee Brown, Worthington’s director of planning and building, said rentals of a residence by “transient guests” for fewer than 30 days – unless it’s a hotel or similar lodging facility – violates city code.

Gargus and Huff attended the Worthington Board of Zoning Appeals meeting March 5 in response to the code and a citation they received from the city.

The BZA voted 5-0 to uphold the city’s definition of “tourist home,” according to Brown.

Gargus and Huff would have to appeal the BZA’s decision to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Brown said. Or, in another scenario that seems less likely, Worthington City Council could change the city code to allow Airbnbs and similar businesses to operate in the city, he said.

Meanwhile, the Worthington Municipal Planning Commission on Thursday, March 12, will discuss possible amendments to the code regarding “tourist homes” and forward any recommendations to council, which must adopt them because it is a change in the law, Brown said.

Council will not consider any amendments to the code before April, he said.

Brown said that in the 6 1/2 years he has been with the city, he recalls half a dozen phone calls about residents offering rentals through Airbnb and other services.

He said when he has been notified about such activity, the city has investigated the issue. When residents have been found in violation of the law, they have stopped the short-term rentals, he said.

“I don’t think it’s a wide issue throughout the city,” Brown said. “It’s generally been brought to our attention by a neighbor.”

City officials received many letters, emails and calls from neighbors of Gargus and Huff regarding the status of the property being used as an Airbnb rental, according to a staff memorandum from Brown and Laney Nofer, planning and building assistant, included in the BZA meeting documents.

On Nov. 17, code-enforcement officer Chris Keppler mailed a notice to Gargus and Huff, stating that using the single-family house as an Airbnb short-term rental is neither a permitted nor a conditional use in the R-10 Zoning District, according to the memo.

“Short-term rentals through the Airbnb website fall within the meaning of a ‘tourist home’ under the zoning code (1123.73), defined as follows: ‘Tourist home means a building other than a hotel where lodging is provided and offered to the public for compensation for not more than 15 individuals and open to transient guests,’” the memo said. “Therefore, we find that your use of the property as a commercially advertised 'tourist home,' subject to ongoing bookings and stays of multiple and variable lengths for transient guests, is not legally permitted under current municipal zoning ordinances, and must therefore cease.”

On Dec. 23, Keppler and Lynda Bitar, the city’s planning coordinator, met with Gargus and Huff regarding the interpretations and application of the zoning code regarding “tourist” homes and “transient guests,” the memo said.

The same day, Gargus and Huff appealed the violation order regarding city officials’ interpretation of the definition of “transient,” according to the memo.

On Jan. 9, Gargus asked the city attorney to clarify in writing the basis for the staff interpretation and application of the “tourist home” language to their use of the property and the staff’s rationale for using 30 days as the standard for defining “transient,” the memo said.

On Jan. 31, law director Tom Lindsey responded to the property owners’ request to clarify the terms of the violation order. He said the term “transient” guest applies and the law is clear on renters who stay fewer than 30 consecutive days, the memo said.

City officials believe the language in the code should be upheld regarding the definition of ‘’tourist home,” the documents said. They believe the interpretation of “transient” also should be upheld based on the statutory definition provided by Lindsey, the memo said.

Huff said the couple have stopped renting the house since receiving notice from the city.

He said he and Gargus own three houses in central Ohio, and their main residence is in north Columbus.

He said they occasionally stay at the Park Boulevard property so they are reluctant to rent it a year at a time.

The problems had started Nov. 7, when a renter threw a blowout party on Park Boulevard, Huff said. He said he was upset by the oversized soiree, but the damage with the neighbors already had been done.

Some of the neighbors have become “abusive and inconsolable, yet I’m trying to understand what damage they’ve suffered,” he said.

“We really regret it’s come to this,” Huff said. “We had no intention of this.”

Still, he said, “as a property owner, we have certain rights,” adding that he and Gargus would like to continue to advertise on the Airbnb website for short-term rentals, although they have ceased to do so while they contest the city’s rules.

“It would be useful for us to rent this out,” he said. “We’re not concerned we can’t find 30-day rentals.”

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary