Column: Go Green…

Construction site in Wilton Manors. (Photo: Dennis Jozefowicz)

Commissioner Tom Green was definitely the star of the show at our City Commission meeting last Tuesday night. The agenda included ordinances creating a Green Building Code and regulations for vacation home rentals, two items long championed by Commissioner Green.

Once the lone voice on the Commission when it came to discussing a stronger and more substantive Green Building Code here in Wilton Manors, Commissioner Green can now be both proud and happy that the entire Commission voted in favor of the new ordinance creating the Wilton Manors Green Building Program.

Since our last municipal election and the addition of Commissioner Flippen to the dais, Tom Green gained a strong ally in his pursuit to pass such an ordinance. Good, forward-thinking policies such as these demonstrate that municipalities across Florida are stepping up to the plate and taking the necessary steps to protect our environment and place greater pressure on our regional and state governing bodies to take similar action on a grander scale.

However, discussion between Commissioners Green and Flippen was not so harmonious when it came to the next ordinance up for business. The Regulation of Vacation Home Rentals, up for First Reading, is another issue that Commissioner Green has been championing for a number of years. In the past, most calls for action were dampened by the reality that the state greatly restricts local governments in regulating vacation home rentals. With a number of municipalities recently passing restrictions based on code-related issues, and with very limited court challenges, we can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The cities of Fort Lauderdale and Lighthouse Point have already passed similar ordinances, which set the stage for our residents to demand action from our city officials. And, listen they did! Our Mayor and City Commissioners support taking much needed action to create some set of rules, some guidelines, some protections to deal with this growing menace to our neighborhoods.

Commissioner Flippen voiced concern at language that seemed to demonize all vacation home operators in our city, taking issue with the wording in the ordinance that vacation home rentals are “injurious to our community.” This sympathetic view toward the so-called “good guys” out there fails to understand a basic reality, so clearly stated by Commissioner Green, that “a business/ vacation rental has no place being in a zoned single-family neighborhood.”

These words were met with enthusiastic applause from residents in the Commission Chambers. Commission Green is totally correct. We already have special zoning areas for businesses, for Bed & Breakfasts, for multi-family and mixed use. Our zoned single-family neighborhoods are not the place for transient lodging businesses. Hopefully the free ride for many of these operators will be coming to an end as neighbors and communities are made aware of what can and cannot be done when dealing with short term vacation home rentals and to make sure that these properties are properly registered, paying their taxes, and not homesteaded.

The view that the “good guys” are doing benevolent acts by taking run-down properties and turning them into a “nice place” that is better for the surrounding community is just wrong! With the rise in home values the past few years, do we really think that no one else would have purchased and improved these properties? Realtors and other property investors have done a wonderful job in renovating older homes and selling them to buyers who are now part of our community. The vacation home operator is running a business to make money, and they are doing that at the expense of our quality of life and our zoning regulations that are supposed to protect our single-family home neighborhoods.

I love meeting new people from all walks of life and from different places, but I can do that at the many businesses along Wilton Drive and throughout our city. Unfortunately, with short term vacation homes popping up everywhere, more and more residents of our city don’t even have to go out, they can meet all these new people as they check in to the rental right next door each and every week. I would rather build a lifelong relationship with a good neighbor, his partner, and their dogs, or the new couple who moved in a few houses down with two young children who wave hello everyday on their way to school.

I want neighbors who build community, not strangers looking for a good time. Community is what we need to protect as we move ahead and make ourselves a stronger and better city. ‘Cause life is just better here…


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