Residents concerned VRBOs will lead to neighborless neighborhoods

Leslie Silverman
This is the fourth in a series of articles that will look at the non-owner-occupied nightly rentals in residentially zoned areas within the city of Hill City issue.
Neighborless neighborhoods. That’s what Lonnie Feddersen, a longtime resident of Hill City, is concerned will happen if something isn’t done about the continued increase of nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.
Feddersen is from Keystone originally and has called this area home for the better part of 44 years.  
His roots run deep.
He went to grade school in Keystone.
He graduated from high school in Hill City.
His wife’s family is originally from Hill City and the property they live in was built in 1929 . He calls his North Newton Ave neighborhood a “large family on one block.” He describes his neighbors: “They might be a grandpa and you grew up with their kids.”
But he sees firsthand a town that is slowly changing as a result of allowing an uncapped number of  nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.
“Neighborhoods are the fabric of the community,” says Feddersen. “Residential neighborhoods should be about neighbors.” He stresses the importance of this. “These are people you help. These are people who watch your home when you’re away. These are people you care about  and who care about you. You look after each other.”
 He wonders if newcomers who are moving to Hill City, a town he describes  ‘has always been a close knit and friendly community,” understand the value of small town neighborhoods.
Besides creating neighborless neighborhoods, Feddersen is concerned about other issues in regards to nightly vacation rentals located in neighborhoods, like not having enough people in a community to serve on organizations or to run for town office. And while he “ can’t deny” that Hill City relies on tourism to generate income, he stresses that without a “healthy vibrant community” people will at some point no longer want to live in town, negatively impacting the overall quality of life in Hill City. 
“Right now they want to raise their kids here. We have a community through all of our organizations, like the Lions Club, the Masons, the Friends of the Library, the Senior Citizens, the Garden Club. We support five churches. We all work really well together to support our community. It’s about relationships with people,” he said.
Mike and Becky Schindler live in Sunset Creek. They moved here a few years ago based on a report they read that voted South Dakota as the number one place in the US to retire. They love the small-town feel of Hill City. They say their Sunset Creek home is in a beautiful, serene setting with proximity to downtown allowing them to walk virtually everywhere.
Like Federsen they have some concerns about nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods and the concept of neighborless neighborhoods.
They have a nightly vacation rental right next door to them. They don't know the owner of the house. All they know is that he lives in Nebraska, is a real estate agent and that “he hardly ever comes here.” 
Without his contact information they’re not able to let him know when the property he rents out has renters who are less than neighborly. They describe times when they have found dog feces in their yard or worse yet unsupervised children who were throwing food into the yard. 
If they knew their neighbors they could easily approach them about these issues. But because this neighbor is an unknown face and name they have no solution other than to just contend with it. 
They also wonder about crime in their area. They say that many of these vacation rental homes are not rented during the winter months and sit vacant. They have witnessed  packages  sitting on doorsteps for days or unretrieved utility bills that can alert criminals to the house’s vacant nature. They also have fewer neighbors to keep an eye on their own home when they travel. 
Feddersen and the Schindlers see the economic impacts as well but in vastly different ways.
Feddersen’s N. Newton Ave. location is currently capped at 8% by the existing nightly vacation rental in residential neighborhood ordinance. 
If any one of those homes gets sold the conditional use permit that allows it to be a nightly vacation rental would move on to the next owner.
“That's unfair,” according to Feddersen, not that he would ever want to turn his home into a nightly vacation rental. The way the current ordinance stands he would never even ever have the option.
 Basically without the conditional use permit ending when the home is sold only newcomers will ever get a chance to be nightly vacation rental owners. “What if there’s a retired couple that has lived in Hill City all their lives and decides they want to rent their house out to make some extra money,” Feddersen asks. “They won't be able to because they can’t get a conditional-use permit because there are too many in that neighborhood and no more will be allowed.  That’s unfair.”
The Schindlers, in Sunset Creek, face a different issue based on the current ordinance. 
They estimate that right now in Sunset Creek 18% of the homes are rental properties. This is well above the 8% cap that the current ordinance places on neighborhoods. The current ordinance, however, does not include Sunset Creek. This means that as Sunset Creek gets further developed more and more of the homes built could be nightly rentals. “Because there is no cap, it could become a very attractive area for the development of nightly rentals ,” they say.
Both Feddersen and the Schlinders worry about being priced out of their homes as vacation rentals tend to sell for more than owner occupied single family homes, raising the value of surrounding homes and  thus associated property taxes.
The Schindlers say there are plenty of places for larger families to stay in Pennington County, at commercial hotels or cabins. They don’t see residential neighborhoods as a continuing option. They support the citizen  proposed initiated measure going to vote on June 7. “This vote should be up to the people,” they say. “If you care about the community you would look at how it affects all of us.”
Feddersen too is personally in support of the citizen proposed initiated measure. The proposed measure ordinance would eliminate all future nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods and would end any conditional use permit when current vacation rentals are sold. “This would allow Hill City to continue to thrive,”says Feddersen. “I have friends  who own nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. We have a different vision of what a neighborhood is.” In Feddersen’s opinion, “neighborless neighborhoods create an isolated community.”

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