by Calvin Ishee

The overall consensus between Pass Christian Board members and Pass Christian residents at Tuesday’s Board meeting was, ‘’it’s time to do something.” After a robust and lengthy public hearing, the Board voted unanimously to approve the City’s first ever Short-Term Rental Ordinance.

The Board heard a passionate plea from VRBO owner Dick East who emphasized the positives of allowing short term rentals within City limits. He stated that the City needs the business, and the Board shouldn’t penalize the 98% of good VRBO owners that are working tirelessly to provide high quality rentals to customers from across the nation. He also asked Joel Sims, PC Community Development Director, how many complaints the City had received in the last six months about VRBO renters, and Sims replied ‘’zero’’.

Local Attorney KC Hightower, representing a local family offering a VRBO on Scenic Drive, which is currently on the ‘’restricted’’ list for VRBOs, asked the BOA to ‘’grandfather’’ his clients property. His justification was that they had already been operating their property for many years and legal precedent allows them to continue operating, even under the new restrictions. City Attorney Malcolm Jones agreed, and the Board approved his request.

Pass resident Pepper Russell rose to disagree with Dick East’s assessment. Even though she agreed that things had ‘’gotten better’’ with VRBOs on her end of town, she felt that the Ordinance didn’t go far enough to address the growing proliferation of VRBO properties in the Pass.   She believes that the ordinance should address the density or concentration of VRBO’s in order to maintain the character of our local neighborhoods. Ward 2 Alderwoman Regina Charlot agreed, and the Board voted to direct the PC Planning Commission, PC Planner, and City Attorney to research the issue and present their findings within 180 days.

Although Mayor Chipper ‘’Leo’’ McDermott stated he’d rather see tourists stay in our local hotels, he realized that VRBOs are here to stay and must be regulated accordingly.  Ward 3 Alderman Anthony Hall stated, ‘’we need to approve it as it is and amend as needed’’.  Ward 4 Alderman Victor Pickich added, ‘’the Ordinance now gives the City something to enforce.’’ Jones concluded by saying, ‘’we’re tired, we’ve worked at this for a year and need to get this Ordinance approved.’’

Now the heavy lifting begins as properties will have to apply for a permit, property inspections will have to conducted, MS Department of Revenue notified so taxes can be properly paid, etc.  Will there be ‘’growing pains’’? Definitely, however, the Mayor and Board are fully committed to resolving them.

The Mayor introduced the new PC Police Chief, Darren Freeman. Freeman, the current Assistant PC Police Chief was chosen ‘’from six highly qualified candidates.”  After a resounding round of applause, Alderwoman Charlot commented, although I fully support your selection, ‘’I will hold you accountable:  For the goals you shared with us, supporting diversity in hiring, restarting ‘Coffee With A Cop’, in working with the citizens, being out in the community and working with the Board.” Alderman Hall said, ‘’ morale is already better than it was and that starts with leadership.” In other business, the Mayor and Board approved Dog Park lease with Trinity Church, agreed to pay 3 monthly payments to Pass Main Street, and approved the Whiskey Bar’s request to close Davis Avenue on Saturday, July 13th from 6 pm to 11 pm for an outdoor concert.

In other business, the Board honored the Hometown BBQ Team for winning the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and approved a proclamation supporting the 2020 US Census.

Under the Consent Agenda, the Board voted to approve a contract with Simon Urban Planning and Consulting, LLC.  In essence, this converts Danit Simon from a City employee to an independent contractor. Although no reason was given for this change, Simon will continue providing planning support for the City but will now be working out of her home in Alabama. Furthermore, the Planning Commission Chair has been designated to act as the coordinator for scheduling of the planner’s time.

After a brief Executive Session, the Board approved hiring attorneys Balch and Bingham to provide legal services to apply for BP Oil and other Grant funding sources through the State of Mississippi and other entities. Although Alderman Hall asked the Mayor why the City Attorney wasn’t handling this case, no specific answer was provided nor did the City provide an explanation for taking this action.

The next Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 2nd, 6 pm at the Pass Christian Court House.