Neighbors call for noise ordinance targeting vacation rentals

Proposed regulations governing occupancy and noise at 1,000 vacation homes that are rented out in Sonoma County met with general acceptance during a workshop Tuesday evening on how county planners intend to enforce rules on this growing segment of the tourism industry.

About 100 people attended the three-hour session. Most were owners or professional managers of vacation rentals. About two dozen neighbors of vacation rentals also attended, but their questions focused on enforcement procedures rather than their litany of complaints with problem houses in their areas.

Two previous public hearings conducted by the Board of Supervisors on neighborhood complaints with vacation home rentals produced contentious exchanges between angry residents and defensive property owners.

Many in the audience called for the county to adopt a noise ordinance, something that supervisors have considered but found difficult to adopt as part of the recent General Plan revision.

"Almost every issue is a noise issue. If you could fix that, a lot of these problems would go away," said Richard Sharrock, who lives a half-mile from a house on Valley Lane near Guerneville that has accumulated a pile of complaints in the files of county code enforcement officials.

However, deputy planning director Jennifer Barrett said a noise ordinance would have to apply to all types of property in the diverse county, a difficult hurdle to overcome.

"A noise ordinance is very difficult to enforce," she said.

In the case of the proposed regulations on vacation rentals, rules on decibel levels for day and night time hours are being introduced for the first time, Barrett said.

Professional property managers said that, in general, they approved of the proposed rules. However, they lamented that they were being imposed because of notorious problems with a limited number of vacation home rentals in the Sonoma Valley and in the Russian River area.

The proposals call for limits on overnight occupancy and guests during daytime hours, a ban on amplified music outdoors from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a special use permit for rentals that want to host parties and weddings.

The county planning commission is likely to hold public hearings on the proposed regulations in April or May and supervisors hope to impose the new rules by June.

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