Jackson County

Scott Walker admits renting out house, applies to city Planning Commission

Scott Walker, at an aldermen meeting earlier this year, shows plans for a sprinkler system in his East Beach home that he hopes will help him secure a permit to run a bed and breakfast in his Ocean Springs home.
Scott Walker, at an aldermen meeting earlier this year, shows plans for a sprinkler system in his East Beach home that he hopes will help him secure a permit to run a bed and breakfast in his Ocean Springs home. klnelson@sunherald.com File

Scott Walker quit fighting accusations by neighbors that he and his wife, Trinity, are renting out their five-bedroom home on East Beach by the week or by the weekend without a permit.

And he has applied to be on the City Planning Commission. There are two openings on the commission that has twice turned him down for permits — one to run a bed and breakfast and the other to operate a short-term rental.

Walker told aldermen on Wednesday night that the head of the city Planning Department gave them permission to rent their home as a bed and breakfast, while they appealed for that permit to Circuit Court.

Neighbors have accused them of renting the house out in short bursts for a year or more, and told aldermen it was like a hotel in their neighborhood.

On Wednesday, Walker was asking the board to grant him a permit and make the business legitimate, even though the city Planning Commission recommended against that. The issue Wednesday night was a permit for short-term rental, like VRBO or Airbnb. Aldermen denied Walker the permit for a bed and breakfast earlier this year.

Walker and his attorney, William Guice, offered to drop the B&B lawsuit and save the city some money if city leaders would approve the short-term rental permit.

“You have a chance to do the right thing and save the city money,” Guice told the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday.

But the vote was, “no.” All the aldermen except Joey Bellman of Ward 3 voted to deny the Walkers a permit. Bellman is one of four new aldermen who were at their first meeting Wednesday, coming into this issue that has been around since early last year.

Walker and Guice argued the Walkers weren’t being treated like others who applied for the permit that allows homeowners to rent their homes out by the week or weekend, even in restrictive residential zoning.

Walker said he’s being treated differently because the neighborhood is wealthy and because he is being punished for things he has done. He didn’t mention it specifically, but he did serve time in federal prison, after pleading guilty to fraud and conspiracy. Walker, a high-profile businessman and consultant who ran for mayor in Ocean Springs before his conviction, began advertising his beach-front home for rentals shortly after getting out of prison in March 2016.

That’s about the time the Walkers applied for permits to rent the house for a week or weekends, under one permit or the other. The B&B permit was denied first, over a fire sprinkler issue. And Walker said he was advised by the city, at that time, that the law allowed him to rent B&B-style while his appeal is in Circuit Court, and he pursued the short-term rental permit.

The neighbors don’t have to like a short-term rental for it to be approved. But neighbors attended Wednesday’s meeting to let the aldermen know their disapproval.

After the meeting, one city planner explained that what the Walkers are doing is “a violation of the city zoning ordinance.”

The zoning ordinance says you can’t rent in time spans less than 30 days without a permit, the planner said. The Walkers don’t have a permit for short-term or B&B rentals, thus the violation.

The only exceptions under the short-term rental law (that the Walkers were appealing for Tuesday) are homeowners who were running short-term rentals before the law went into place in 2015, the planner said.

The law was put into place as a way to govern the rentals and collect sales tax. There are about 27 short-term rental properties approved in the city.

The Planning Commission is a seven-person board with 5-year terms. Walker submitted his resume and application for a spot on the board before the June 30 deadline. The applications will be presented to the Board of Aldermen, which makes the appointments.