Zionsville officials deny couple’s Airbnb request

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Two Zionsville residents who used Airbnb to rent an apartment above their detached garage are no longer allowed to do so.

The Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals denied a request Tuesday night from Steven and Tamara Totty, who were seeking permission to allow short-term rentals on their Laurel Avenue property.

The Tottys had been working with the town for the past year to receive the necessary approvals to continue advertising their space on the popular lodging-sharing platform that connects travelers with people willing to put them up in their homes for a price.

They had been Airbnb members since October 2014. After a neighbor complained to local officials last summer, the town issued a cease and desist letter to the couple.

Airbnb removed the listing in February after the Tottys denied 16 booking requests.

Zionsville’s zoning code does not offer guidelines for short-term rentals like Airbnb. The closest regulations are for bed-and-breakfast establishments, but the Tottys do not serve food. Because the Totty’s residence is not currently zoned to allow a bed and breakfast, renting it on Airbnb is seen as a violation of town code.

The BZA denied the request from the Tottys after a hearing Tuesday night.

“It’s an example of another potential lost opportunity for Zionsville to legitimately showcase its community,” attorney Mike Andreoli, who is representing the Tottys, told IBJ on Wednesday morning.

Andreoli said the Tottys are “very upset” about the decision because they tried to educate the town about the benefits of the lodging service and address concerns about safety, parking and property values.

He said they plan to work with the town to update the zoning ordinance to provide regulations for short-term rentals that aren’t considered bed and breakfasts.

“Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know,” Andreoli said.

Zionsville Planning and Economic Development Director Wayne DeLong said zoning changes would go through the Plan Commission or Town Council, but he was not aware of any proposals to change the regulations regarding bed and breakfast establishments.

"We stand by the BZA's decision," Town Council President Susana Suarez said Wednesday. "There has to be compelling evidence that this is in the best interest of the town for us to consider reviewing the ordinance. That has yet to be presented."

A recent search on Airbnb showed nearly 20 other properties available in Zionsville, but the town does not intend to seek out and issue violations to other Airbnb members operating in the community.

DeLong said his department “would pursue zoning complaints.”

“Apparently, it’s OK to do it unless somebody complains,” Andreoli said.

The town had received a handful of letters in opposition to the Tottys' request, but the Tottys had gathered close to 400 signatures on a petition in support of their operation.

The Zionsville dispute is one of a growing number of debates that municipalities across the country are having in regard to sites like Airbnb. The biggest instances have been in San Francisco and New York City, but Seattle, New Orleans, Boston and Chicago also are starting to regulate the lodging-sharing service.

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