Council wrestles with Airbnb issue

Nathan Oster

A request for a conditional use permit has put the Greybull Town Council in the position of needing to decide whether allow the continued operation of an AirBnb in an residential area or reject it due to fears about the potential impact it would have on the neighborhood.

Council members heard from both sides on Monday night before tabling the matter until next month.  Ian Crouse, the owner of the home at 700 N. Third St., is seeking the conditional use permit.  Described as a "cozy brick house," it is one of nine in the Greybull town limits listed on the official Airbnb website. The list includes a couple offerings from local campgrounds.

As part of the application process, Crouse was asked to gather input from property owners within 300 feet of his property. With their signatures, 12 neighbors voiced approval of his CUP request while three opposed.

Vic Strube, Larry and Kathy Mayland and John Coyne II expressed their disapproval on the application and then again at Monday night's council meeting, citing various reasons why the Airbnb should be shut down.

"We have a good neighborhood, we feel comfortable in it and most everyone knows everyone," said Larry Mayland.  "None of us bought a place to live that's next to a motel.  Granted, it's not a motel, but we could potentially have a different neighbor every night."

Coyne said he "can't imagine" the town allowing the operation of a commercial operation in a low-density residential area. "I don't care for the transient nature — people in one night, out the next — and I'm wondering if they pay a lodging tax, which people who stay in our motels and campgrounds pay."

Coyne also cited the lack of residential housing units for families who wish to become or remain a part of the community as a reason to deny Crouse's application. 

"I recognize that Ian needs to make payments, but he started with the Airbnb before inquiring about what was necessary to do so, so he didn't follow Airbnb guidelines, and is coming in, hat in hand, afterwards to persuade the town that an Airbnb should be allowed in that neighborhood.

"He can sell the house and make a tidy profit a lot easier than he can bringing in a family for a night or another group for a week."

Strube shared the views of his two neighbors, boiling it all down to this: "I don't believe a low-density residential area should be subjected to commercial enterprises.  I've been there for 45 years.  It's a very quiet neighborhood.  I see no reason to bring a commercial business into the area — and that's what an Airbnb is."

When given the opportunity to state his case, Crouse told the council that "a lot more" people liked his proposal. Some praised him for showing initiative at such a young age.  Others told him they had relatives who might like to book the property when they come to visit.

He challenged those who spoke against his application, saying he has a right to use his property the way he sees fit. "It's much better to have a house occupied by an Airbnb than one that's vacant, which creates problems, too."

Crouse added that the economic impact of Airbnbs should not be overlooked, pointing out that guests would be spending money in the town.

Before opting to table the discussion, council members provided hints about where they stood.

Councilman Gerald Crist seemed to oppose the conditional use permit, saying, "We have zoning for a reason and that is to protect the neighborhood," and that he, too, was concerned for the safety of the neighborhood, with people coming and going year-round.

"Once we let the horses out of the gate, we can't put them back in," he said, citing the precedent.

Councilmen Chris Dooley and Blaine Jolley seemed more open to the proposal, with Dooley saying there are already Airbnbs in residential areas and that, "I have a hard time telling someone what they can do with their place."

Jolley added, "I've seen a lot of good quality people come into Airbnbs, too — like traveling nurses and all kinds of people.  Plus I hate to ignore the fact that the majority (of neighbors contacted) was in favor."

Councilman Jermy Kottman was not present, but listened in by phone. He supported the idea of tabling the matter until next month.

Other news

In other news to emerge from a briskly-paced Monday night meeting:

• Another conditional use permit application drew considerably less scrutiny, as the council voted to allow Angela McDaniel to open a childcare center at 101 Sandy Row.  Unlike Crouse, she received 100 percent support from neighbors living within 300 feet of her property.  

McDaniel also indicated that she'd be taking steps to improve access to her property for people dropping off kids.

  • Mason Irvine, appearing for the first since his appointment as public works foreman, said the crew has been busy dealing with water issues the last couple of weeks.  Tasks on the horizon include installation of street lights on Greybull Avenue and the replacement of the scoreboards at the Art Schutte Sports Complex Little League fields.  Carrie Hunt, the town's administrator/finance director, said the local Little League organization landed a Sykes grant that covered the expense of the scoreboards.

• Putting on her emergency management director hat, Hunt said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited last week to inspect the levee.  One remarked that the river is running much higher than usual for early September.

Hunt also touched on the repairs to the emergency siren, saying parts had been ordered and are expected to ship the week of Oct. 13.  The expense will be covered by Big Horn County Emergency Management, which had some grant money leftover on a project to replace all of the county's sirens. Hunt said the town will try to land grant money to upgrade the town's other siren during the next fiscal year.

• The council voted to proceed with the deactivation of the water tap at 324 Fifth Ave. N. due to nonpayment.

• Hunt provided an update on the summer swim season and hinted that some changes would be considered for next year. Attendance was down by about 31% this summer, with 3,907 documented visits between June and August compared to 5,560 last summer.  Overall, however, pool revenue climbed by about 11%, as more adults paid admission fees. The pool didn't cost as much to operate, either, with the town reporting a 28% decrease in expenditures.

While Sunday hours aren't likely to return, Hunt said she intends to consider extending pool hours the other six days of the week, which would benefit kids under the age of 8 who must be accompanied by a parent.