Jackson County

Scott Walker's business plans for house may be 'a long shot'

KAREN NELSON 
 The Downtown Cottage near City Hall in Ocean Springs has a sign posted outside, on the left, as part of the process for becoming a short-term rental. The sign alerts neighbors that the business has applied for a permit.
KAREN NELSON The Downtown Cottage near City Hall in Ocean Springs has a sign posted outside, on the left, as part of the process for becoming a short-term rental. The sign alerts neighbors that the business has applied for a permit.

OCEAN SPRINGS -- This is why Scott and Trinity Walker's plans to rent out their house as a business may be "a long shot" in Ocean Springs.

One: The city allows only 35 short-term rentals right now, and there are 35 applications already in, with a waiting list of many more. There have been as many as 40 more inquiries, said Rickey Authement, head of the city Planning Commission.

The Walkers aren't even on the waiting list, Authement said. They may have to wait in line.

Two: Commercial ventures, such as renting out a home for weddings as the Walkers are proposing, aren't allowed in residential areas without a special exception. That's because R-1 is a highly prized zoning to protect residential areas. Authement said he can't recall a time in his three terms on the Planning Commission that the city has allowed a special exception for that type commercial venture in an R-1 zone.

That doesn't mean the Walkers can't try.

A long time coming

Short-term rentals are houses rented out by the day, week or month.

The Walkers have been advertising their home on prime East Beach real estate as a short-term rental at $1,000 a day or $11,000 a month and also as a commercial wedding venue. Scott Walker, a well-known local businessman who ran for mayor, was released this week from federal custody after serving time for white-collar crimes. When he announced, in a front-page article in the Sun Herald, his plans to rent out his home, it caused a stir, because he and his wife don't have the permit or special exception needed.

The city sent a letter to "cease-and-desist" until they can get straight with city laws.

It took Ocean Springs almost two years to hammer out a way to regulate short-term rentals, before it put a law into place last July. There's an extensive process to go through to get the permit, including public hearings, letters to all the residents within 500 feet, a sign posted in the yard to announce the application, inspections and delineation of off-street parking.

And once permitted, there are taxes to pay that come to 11 percent -- 7 percent for sales tax, 2 percent for city restaurant and lodging and 2 percent for county tourism.

After all the slots are filled, the only way a person can get a short-term rental permit is if someone drops out: sell the property, lose their permit because they didn't follow the restrictions or quit.

Authement said he believes the city may consider increasing the cap of 35 if everything goes well, but he has not been told anything to that effect.

Commercial neighbors

Having a wedding venue in a high-end residential area is another issue altogether.

To get a special exception, the neighbors have to approve.

The only businesses in R-1 that Mayor Connie Moran is aware of are in-home consulting and professional businesses that have few employees and have little or no impact on the surrounding neighbors.

What sets apart a wedding venue business is the number of cars involved -- 75 to 100 in many cases.

"With the noise and the parking, in my opinion, that one's going to be tough," said Authement, who has years of experience dealing with zoning issues in Ocean Springs. He said he doesn't see the neighbors going for it.

He said, "I just think it's going to be a long shot."

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