Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals denies Airbnb rental in Village

Dolly Pines Cottage Apartment is above a detached garage. (Submitted photo)

Dolly Pines Cottage Apartment is above a detached garage. (Submitted photo)

By Ann Marie Shambaugh

One Village couple hoping to lay the groundwork for short-term rentals in Zionsville instead found themselves out of business after the Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals denied their request to be allowed to rent a room over their detached garage through the website Airbnb.com.

Commissioners said little before their unanimous vote after listening to several residents on both sides of the issue voice their opinions.

Board member Gregory Morical pointed out that bed and breakfasts are specifically prohibited in urban areas in the town’s zoning code, which states that they are among uses that “by the nature of the investment or operation, have a pronounced tendency, once started, to rapidly increase beyond the limits … for home occupations and impair the use, value and quiet enjoyment of adjacent residential properties.”

“My personal opinion is that while Airbnbs may be a useful thing, and I have personally stayed at Airbnbs in the past, the petitioner has failed to meet its burden of proof,” Morical said.

Mike Andreoli, an attorney representing petitioners Steven and Tamara Totty, said before the vote that his clients bought the property with plans to rent out the space through Airbnb.com, a site that connects travelers with short-term rentals. They saw several other active rentals on the site in Zionsville and were under the impression that they would not be prohibited from listing their home.

“They investigated and found out there were other Airbnbs (operating in Zionsville) as they do today,” Andreoli said. “When they bought the property they had no reason to believe they couldn’t use the property as an Airbnb, because others were existing and in actual usage.”

But board members and remonstrators didn’t buy that argument.

“This is a self-imposed hardship,” said Carole Boleman, who lives near the Tottys.

Some remonstrators said they worried for their safety, with strangers frequently coming into the neighborhood, while others expressed concerns that property values would drop.

Don and Tammy Hahn, who live near the Tottys, spoke in support of the Airbnb and said that they didn’t even realize the home was being rented out until they got online looking for accommodations in the area. Louise Bergmann, a Realtor who also lives in the Village, said she did a search of property values in the immediate area in 2015 – when the Totty’s hosted 94 guests in 212 nights – and didn’t find any negative impact.

“The values in the Village have not gone to hell in a handbasket,” Bergmann said.

As of July 12 more than a dozen Zionsville area homes were listed on Airbnb.com. Town officials only investigate after receiving a complaint, as they did against the Totty’s in 2015. Town code generally allows homeowners to rent their properties as long as they are not also living on the site.

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