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People buy homes in residential neighborhoods to be part of a community, to live in a not so hustle and bustle environment, to raise a family, to walk their dogs and go bicycle riding away from traffic.

Unfortunately, not so in Wilton Manors and throughout the great state of Florida. Local laws protecting our residential neighborhoods have been wiped away by state leaders, and our communities are turned into the Wild West with the proliferation of uncontrolled short-term rentals better known as vacation rentals.  

Party houses, transient neighborhoods, litter, urinating drunken college students, cars parked on your lawn, and loud music are not good selling points when pitching the quality of life for potential residents seeking a great place to live, work and play. This problem is not getting any better as vacation rentals continue to grow in number like cancer within our residential communities. The latest trend is the purchase of multi-unit properties, kicking out long-term renters, and turning the units into vacation rentals. This basically turns these residential properties into small hotels in areas not zoned for such activity. Over 10% of the properties here in Wilton Manors are now being operated as some form of short-term vacation rental — and with the recent conversion of multi-unit properties and additional conversion of single-family residences, the number continues to grow. 

Our city has created mixed-use zoning corridors for development. We have created districts for Bed and Breakfast lodgings to operate. We have publicized our interest in bringing small boutique hotels to the city. We did this because we understand the need of tourism dollars, a strong and vibrant business community, and the unique vibe we all enjoy along with the Arts and Entertainment District. We did not do this to have our residential neighborhoods turned into Vacationland USA.

With the current trend of turning multi-family units into vacation rentals, why would anyone look to open a hotel, which requires much more regulation and oversight? We are allowing businesses to invade our residential neighborhoods, diminishing our quality of life, diminishing the prospect of beneficial businesses from investing in the city, and diminishing the availability of housing for long-term community-minded residents. Defending our residential neighborhoods and speaking out about the detrimental effect of short-term vacation rentals is not anti-tourism, not anti-LGBT, and not anti-business — as some scream and holler every time I write about this problem.  

The recent headlines about the tragic overdose incident at a party house here on the Westside of our Island City highlight the growing problem of vacation rentals. Leave aside for now the horrific reality of illegal fentanyl use by drug dealers selling to unsuspecting recreational drug users. The incident tells of the daily problems now faced by many in our community. Residents that use to live next to other long-term residents now live next to a party house, where large numbers of guests descend to have a loud, rambunctious, drug and alcohol-fueled good ole time at all hours of the day and night. This is not like buying next to an airport and then complaining about the noise — this is about buying a beautiful home in a residential community, only to wake up one morning to find a for-profit business being operated right next door that disrupts your quality of life on a daily basis.  

This problem is also a huge drain on city resources — having staff to track these properties, code enforcement officers and police to respond to calls, and much more… costing the taxpayers of this city a lot of money. Time for residents to make a stand before our residential communities are lost forever. A good place to start is with our state leaders who decided to take away local control over where such businesses could operate. Let the governor and state legislators hear about the real threats to our communities — not the made-up threats by the religious right over “Don’t Say Gay” or of trans youth’s use of a particular bathroom. The continued breakdown of our residential communities poses a real threat to our quality of life, to our neighborhoods, to our families and we need to start shouting this at every opportunity. While you have the state’s attention — let them also know that they should have passed the legislation legalizing fentanyl test strips. This way when our children and younger relatives make wrong choices that are a part of growing up, it does not have to be a death sentence just by doing a line of cocaine at a party during spring break.  

Building strong communities, creating wonderful neighborhoods for people to live, work and play, having a thriving Arts and Entertainment District, along with vibrant mixed-use corridors, and secure and safe residential neighborhoods will continue to make life just better here.

Sal Torre has been a columnist for the Wilton Manors Gazette since its inception. Sal has served on the Wilton Drive Task Force, Budget Review Advisory Board, and Charter Review Board, among others. Sal is currently President of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors and Secretary for the Friend of the Wilton Manors Library. He is employed with Broward County in the Human Services Division.


Opinion: Law and Disorder