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Alpine officials in talks about changing local rules on short-term rentals

A view of Alpine, Texas in April 2024.
Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
A view of Alpine, Texas in April 2024.

Local officials in Alpine are considering potential updates to the city's rules on Airbnbs and other short-term rentals.

Alpine’s city council recently held a lengthy workshop meeting on the issue, where members talked about a number of possible changes, including everything from new permitting requirements to getting rid of permits altogether.

For more on the ongoing conversations, Marfa Public Radio spoke with Alpine Mayor Catherine Eaves.

Interview Highlights

On what prompted the talks about rule changes

Alpine is of course a popular tourist destination with a thriving local lodging industry, but Eaves said the idea of changing the city’s short-term rental ordinance stemmed from a continued uptick in people applying for short-term rental permits and some citizen concerns about the industry’s growth in town.

“Neighbors are against it, and of course, the homeowners are for it,” she said.

Some residents have complained to the council about parking issues associated with short-term rentals in their neighborhood, but the conversation about the pros and cons of the industry has become “more complex,” Eaves said.

“We’re discussing possibly not even having any permits for short-term rentals, therefore no permit fees,” she said.

Officials are also looking at rules around hotel occupancy taxes - known colloquially as “HOT taxes.” Rental owners are supposed to collect those lodging fees and pass the money on to local and state governments, but local officials have struggled to enforce the rules.

“Some of the council members feel that the short-term rental [owners] will be more likely to comply and pay their HOT taxes if they don’t also have an additional permit fee,” Eaves said.

On Alpine’s lack of affordable housing

At the recent workshop meeting, Councilmember Judy Stokes described the growth of short-term rentals in Alpine as creating a housing market where working families can’t find an affordable place to live because fewer rentals are available as long-term housing options.

“A lot of people that are buying these, they own 15-20 of them,” she said. “I think that’s wonderful that that’s the business they want to go into, but I see that it hurts Alpine.”

Still, Eaves said the council is not considering rule changes that would directly tackle that problem.

“At this point, we haven’t looked at anything that would address that core issue,” she said. “Now, some council members feel that if we do have the permits, and the renewal fees each year to renew the permit, as well as ordinances regarding parking, that might discourage some investors from wanting to make their home a short-term rental.”

Eaves said she agrees that it’s “very difficult” to afford housing in Alpine because of the number of short-term rentals, but that the market “seems to be adjusting itself.”

“Some individuals who have short-term rentals have stopped,” she said. “They’re now looking at the long-term rentals, because they’re not making the profit that they thought they would make.”

On the current trend of Airbnbs

Despite some property owners getting out of the industry, Eaves said the town continues to see a net gain of short-term rentals.

“It is still heading up,” she said. “Each city council meeting, just about every one of them, we’re approving more short-term rentals.”

The number of people getting out of the short-term rental business has not outpaced the number of people getting into it, she said.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.