DID ITS’ LOBBIESTS MISLEAD INDIAN RIVER COUNTY REGARDING SHORT-TERM RENTALS?

Route A1A, Indian River County, FL

THE ISSUE: It’s one thing to occasionally have a rowdy crew in the Airbnb next door, but it’s something else when a constant stream of strangers ruins your neighborhood. 

THE LOBBIESTS: Anfield Consulting of Tallahassee is Indian River County’s (IRC) lobbying firm, specifically, Edgar Fernandez, who’s profile reads “he has been working in the legislative and governmental arena for over 30 years serving in many capacities.” Anfield’s website indicates that they have, “through its representatives, over 136 years of experience in government relations, and has successfully represented clients before the Florida Legislature.”

The term of IRC’s Agreement with Anfield commenced on January 1, 2022 and ends December 31, 2022. During this term IRC pays Anfield the sum-total of one hundred twenty thousand taxpayer dollars ($ 120,000.00).  Anfield’s “services include lobbying all relevant issues (e.g., IRC short-term rentals) before the State Legislature and the Executive Branch including all relative agencies.  Specific services include…drafting legislation as needed, securing sponsors for bills and amendments and passage of same…Anfield shall serve as a representative and spokesperson in meetings with…members of the Florida Legislature, executive and legislative branch staff…”

Anfield Consulting Tallahassee. Edgar Fernandez, far right.

BACKSTORY:

In 2011, the Florida Legislature preempted local governments from regulating short-term vacation rentals. The legislation included a provision that “grandfathered” any existing ordinance that was passed prior to June 1, 2011. 

At that time, IRC required that a vacation rental operating in a residential zone not be less than 30 days.  Otherwise, it would be classified as a hotel or motel confined to commercial zones.  

On 7/10/2012 IRC chose not to be grandfathered, and, based on a motion by then-County Commissioner Bob Solari and seconded by Commissioner Joe Flescher, the commissioners voted to allow short-term rentals for less than one month in both commercial and residential zones.

As a result of ongoing neighborhood complaints of short-term rental disturbances, the County Commissioners voted on June 21, 2016 in favor of, among other things, the following short-term rental regulations:

  1. Prohibition on commercial events at residence (e.g., weddings and celebrations).
  2. Special parking regulations.
  3. Sea turtle protection lighting regulations and dune protection regulations (for rental units located east of SR A-1-A).
  4. Noise regulations: Chapter 974 noise regulations which include day and night decibel level limitations, more stringent “no disturbance” requirements from 10 pm to 6 am, and no excessive noise that would cause annoyance to any reasonable person of normal sensitivity.
  5. Limitations on dock/boat use: (for waterfront rental units): no more than 2 boats moored per dock, dock used by unit owner or renter only, no live-aboard use; (all rental units): no more than 2 boats stored or parked per unit.
  6. Fire safety requirements and maximum sleeping occupancy limitations.
  7. Fines and citation penalties for violations. 
June 21, 2016 IRC short-term vacation rental regulations.

STORY:

Florida State Senator Danny Burgess

Republican State Senator Danny Burgess’ 2021 Senate Bill 512 would have preempted “certain regulated activities of public lodging establishments (to include a non-transient apartment, transient apartment…vacation rental) and public food service establishments to the State.”

As such, the short-term regulations approved on June 21, 2016, outlined above would be null and void.

To address this issue of “preempting (IRC’s) certain regulated activities of public lodging establishments (to include a non-transient apartment, transient apartment…vacation rental) …” to the State, on January 12, Natalie Fausel, a partner at Anfield, emailed Kathleen Forst, former IRC Legislative Affairs and Communications Manager and IRC County Attorney Dylan Reingold asking them to, “at their earliest convenience,” review their “updated language to Grandfather IRC’s vacation rental ordinance.  We have met with staff at Senate Regulated Industries, and they felt the attached would provide the legal language IRC would need.”

Then on the same day an email obtained through a Public Records Request from Frank Bernardino of Anfield Consulting, IRC’s $ 120,000/year Tallahassee’s lobbying firm, the following wording was suggested:

So, we need it to say

However, a local government may adopt a law, ordinance, or regulation to regulate vacation rentals if such ordinance is less restrictive than a law, ordinance, or regulation that was in effect on June 1, 2011. (Emphasis added.)” 

As such, the following amendment, was inserted into the bill on February 1, 2022, based on the efforts of Anfield Consulting:

“This paragraph does not apply to any local law, ordinance, or regulation adopted on or before June 1, 2011… or when a law, ordinance, or regulation adopted after June 1, 2011, regulates vacation rentals, if such law, ordinance, or regulation is less restrictive than a law, ordinance, or regulation that was in effect on June 1, 2011. (Emphasis added).”

Previously, in a January 11, 2022, in an email obtained by a Public Record Request, IRC County Administrator Jason Brown, copying Anfield Consulting, wrote ” Our regulations post 2016 allow for vacation rentals, but have limitations on parking and occupancy.  Therefore, we won’t be able to do a tidy matrix that shows our parking regulations were one thing in 2011 and something less restrictive in 2016.” 

Other than an ordinance that allowed 30-day rentals, IRC had no short-term regulations in effect on June 1, 2011.

So how could the short-term regulations, approved on June 21, 2016, be less restrictive?

To repeat, other than an ordinance that allowed 30-day rentals, IRC had no short-term regulations in effect on June 1, 2011.  How could the short-term regulations, approved on June 21, 2016, be less restrictive?

Why, at the Senate Community Affairs Hearing on February 2 did Edgar Fernandez “wave in support,” when his appearance card came up to address the committee on the amendment containing the less restrictive language?

Did Anfield goof up and mislead Indian River County, comprising a $ 120,000 annual consulting contract and providing Indian River County a fall sense of security?

Even State Senator Danny Burgess, addressing SB512 at a Senate Community Affairs Hearing on February 2 said, “if there is any existing ordinance (by a local government), you can adopt a less restrictive ordinance.” 

On March 14, 2022, SB512 died in Appropriations. But be assured it will be back in the next Legislative session.  

SB512 and companion HB325 are continued attempts over more than seven years of bills to bring Florida’s vacation rental industry under a statewide regulatory umbrella where all meaningful control bets are off!

Short-term vacation rental off route A1A, Indian River County, FL.

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