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Proposal would change Santa Fe rules for casita, guesthouse rentals

SANTA FE – Four city councilors are proposing city ordinance changes that would allow residential property owners to rent out up to two dwellings on a single lot and not have to live there themselves, essentially permitting two rentals on property zoned for single-family units.

A Santa Fe homeowner currently can rent out an “accessory dwelling” like a casita or guest house, but only if the owner lives in the main house — a provision advocates say protects the single-family character of residential neighborhoods.

There is a caveat in how the proposed changes would allow absentee owners to rent out both a house and an accessory dwelling. The leases for both units would have to be for a minimum of 30 days, discouraging their use as vacation rentals.

Owner-occupants would still be permitted to rent out a casita as a short-term vacation rental.

The proposed changes could impact a long-running dispute between owner-occupants and the absentee owners of a property in the South Capital area who were renting out a main house and a casita. After lobbying by area homeowners, including over parking spaces, the casita renter is facing eviction under a legal ruling from the city.

According to documents prepared by city staff, the intent of the changes is to “open up additional rental housing options without the need for large-scale new developments.” It says rental housing in Santa Fe is at a premium and relaxing the restrictions “would create an immediate supply of additional housing options throughout the City.”

In addition to allowing casita/guesthouse landlords to live off-property, the proposed changes scale back restrictions on dwelling height, setbacks and living space and allow on-street parking to count toward off-street parking requirements.

Not everyone is happy about the proposal.

Karen Heldmeyer, acting president of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Network, said several concerns were raised at the group’s meeting last week, including the lack of opportunities for public input during the process. Other concerns had to do with increased density in already crowded neighborhoods, creating commercial enterprises in residential areas, and another provision of the proposed amendments that allows for second-story additions for accessory dwellings if they don’t “exceed the limits established by the building envelope of the principle structure.”

“The real fear is that it will exacerbate the short-term rental issue,” Heldmeyer said, meaning the proliferation of Airbnbs and other vacation rentals that advocates maintain destroys the residential nature of neighborhoods.

There’s also the issue of enforcement. The track record for the Land Use Department in that regard is “horrible,” she said.

The proposal was on the agenda for Monday’s Public Works Committee meeting but was postponed. Peter Ives, the committee’s chairman and one of the bill’s sponsors, said he wanted to delay the bill to allow for public input. He said plans to schedule two public listening sessions.

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Santa Fe City Councilor Peter Ives

“It’s clearly an issue people are concerned about,” he said, adding that he’s already fielded numerous phone calls from people offering comment.

Asked about the effect of creating two rental residences on a lot zoned for single-family residences, Ives said property owners are already entitled under the existing code to construct a second dwelling. The proposal is currently scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on April 4.

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