Vacation Rentals Fuel Controversy in Jerome

If you’ve read our November issue, you probably noticed This Old House, a story about Glenn Odegard’s renovation of the long-abandoned John Riordan House in Jerome. The house was damaged by a mudslide in the 1950s and sat vacant for decades before Odegard bought and repaired it. Now, he’s renting the house out for vacationers and other tourists.

And that last part is what spurred an email we received recently from a business owner in Jerome. She claimed that vacation rentals in Jerome’s residential zone are “illegal,” and she further stated that “now readers will be given the impression that tourists staying in single-family residential homes is OK, when it’s not.”

The question that immediately sprang to mind: If these vacation rentals are illegal, why doesn’t Jerome do something about them?

It turns out that the letter writer, along with others in Jerome, holds an interpretation of Jerome’s laws that the town itself does not appear to share. And that difference of opinion has fueled a simmering controversy in the tiny hillside town.

Several houses in Jerome’s residential zone have been turned into vacation rentals. Opponents claim doing so displaces permanent residents and puts stress on the town’s aging infrastructure. Others, though, point out that visitors staying in rentals boost the town’s economy.

Over the summer, Jerome residents voted on an ordinance that would have regulated vacation rentals. It would have split the town into seven districts and allowed one such rental in each district. Existing rental properties would have been grandfathered in, though.

Voters rejected the ordinance by a 3-1 margin. Some said the penalties for violations of the ordinance weren’t stiff enough, but others objected to the grandfathering-in of existing rentals. They claim, as our letter writer did, that the rentals are operating illegally, so grandfathering them in would be endorsing an illegal activity.

Those opponents point to the town code, which spells out what is allowed in residentially zoned neighborhoods. A line in the code says that any use not listed in the code is prohibited. Vacation rentals aren’t specifically listed, so opponents say that means they’re illegal.

But proponents of the rentals, including Jerome Mayor Nikki Check, have said the code's language is unlikely to stand up in court. They say that state law regarding property rights would trump what’s on the books in Jerome. And thus far, the town does not appear to have taken any action against Odegard or other vacation-rental owners.

For what it’s worth, here’s our take: As a travel magazine, we’re in the business of promoting tourism in Arizona — not interpreting and enforcing local laws. So, we’ll continue to point our readers to interesting things happening around our state — and the John Riordan House certainly fits that description.

But what do you think? Share your opinions in the comments.

(Photo: Peggy Coleman | Jerome)

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Comments

We have rented homes in Jerome several times and have loved the uniqueness and quirkiness of these older homes. Jerome is a fascinating and historic town. Love coming when the hummingbirds are in abundance.

But where will they all park?

Obviously, the renters would park in the same place that the residential owners of the property would park---in their own spot.

I've recently moved to Southern Arizona, and Bisbee has always reminded me of Jerome. It is very charming, and it is a mine town with aging infrastructure that has been built directly into the side of the mountain. But Bisbee is thriving in ways that Jerome is not. Bisbee has many rental homes and fairly constant tourist traffic. Perhaps that is making the difference.

I use vacation rentals when I travel. It is convenient to have a real kitchen and my own place to land as I explore. It is also a great experience to live as a local. As long as the owners make sure that the renters are obeying rules and are courteous to the neighbors I really don't see the problem. Tourists who are feeling welcome tend to stay and spend more money.

I think they should be allowed to have vacation rentals

Jerome needs the economic boost. The residents are concerned about how frail the econony in Jerome is. Well, here's the chance to fix that. And the home appears from photos to be done tastefully & w/pride in bringing some life back to the ghost town. For years theres been a few places to stay & eat down town. There are beautiful old house on the hilks, that are just wasting away. Why nit revitalize them? Why not breathe life back into them & the city?

I agree with Kerri and having had the pleasure of staying at the Riordan House for 3 days last year, I can express my views and opinions as one who has been there-done that! Without a doubt, this home glorifies the essence of the history of Jerome. To preclude visitors from sharing in the beauty and mystique of true Arizona history would be a senseless act of selfishness by those who oppose the private offerings of such a historic stay. Also, having walked and explored the streets and small businesses that are located there, it is very clear that any restrictions reducing tourism in such a small town would be detrimental to those business men & women who rely on the economic boost that vacationers bring. I will go out on a limb and submit that those complainants are retired, on fixed incomes with no children and no desire to keep Jerome alive. Jerome’s popularity as a ‘ghost town’ across the country and around the world only exemplifies the need for these types of vacation rentals. Eliminating true hospitality that is at the forefront of what attracts the influx of tourism (and money), while understanding that progress will occur regardless of the laws, I foresee the eventuality of one of two scenarios… Jerome will live up to its historic brand and become the ghost town it once was or the unavailability of sufficient room rentals will open the door for large corporations like Motel 6 to take up the slack…and they will leave the lights on for you!

People who (OWN) property should be able to do just about anything they would like with their property!

I think Jerome is a neat little town with lots of history and I believe it needs all the extra income it can get. I think it's a great place for people to vacation at and it has to help the town a lot . Lots of towns just disappear without a little extra help and I certainly wouldn't want that to happen to Jerome don't want to see it become a ghost town . I live in Texas but I go to Jerome every time I go to Arizona .

What difference does it make what I think, I don't live in Jerome so therefore anything I say is irrelevant. They make their town rules to suit their desires, my opinion counts for nothing!

What's stopping people from doing airbnb which is the same thing and even cities as big as New York and San Francisco have had trouble regulating them. What I do think is interesting is this is a small scale case of what is happening in those bigger cities, locals and low income long time residents are priced out and more vacation rentals go in so how does a city keep its character when there are nothing but tourists? I'm for letting people do what they want with their property and love airbnb but makes me wonder the effects of it all.

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why wouldn't a town like that want people to be able to enjoy what they enjoy everyday just maybe they might decide to live there but I hope that writer isn't their next door neighbor, being close minded is controlling and not allowing change

Sad to see battling vacation home rentals in a small town. It brings dollars in to your small town spenders people with money. Vacation homes saved homes and made them a comfortable atmosphere for people with families and more affordable to travel. I owned several in Scottsdale and trust me every battle from the neighbors I WON, There is no law you just have to make sure you have the proper paperwork for rentals.

Sad to see battling vacation home rentals in a small town. It brings dollars in to your small town spenders people with money. Vacation homes saved homes and made them a comfortable atmosphere for people with families and more affordable to travel. I owned several in Scottsdale and trust me every battle from the neighbors I WON, There is no law you just have to make sure you have the proper paperwork for rentals.

I don't think that is the correct picture. And, if it is, with so many 'homes' in the photo, the home should be circled in red for identification. I certainly don't see this home in the photo : http://www.johnriordanhouse.com/

The photo is a generic shot of Jerome, not of the home mentioned in the story.

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As much as I disagree with the opponents, what they say is a common covenant and restriction in most cities even here in the Pacific North West. If it is done quietly and in good taste, the owners sometimes can get a deviance from the code BEFORE any work is done on the renovation. In this case the house was vacant for decades, even though it has historic character, and not providing any tax revenues for the city. Since one of Jerome's sources of incomes is vacationers, and the John Riordan House is rented out to single families, it does not seem to, "in fact", greatly disturb the covenants, restrictions, and character of the area. The owner should be able to go before the City Council to ask for, and receive a deviance, in my humble opinion.

You go, Nikki Check, girl you are right!

to tourist rentals competition I would imagine because the anti-summer-house-rental arguments don't make much sense. Jerome: decide what kind of town you want to be... both economically and aesthetically. If its tourist you want, then don't exclude home-owner rentals to tourists and allow other tourist rentals.

How can anyone say "renters displace owners" - no one can displace an owner unless they want to be displaced. People rent so they too can travel, or because they can't use the home "at the moment" but don't want to sell. There are so many reasons. As for new fresh visitors - who would ever want to turn them away? They spend spend spend: to eat out, shop till they drop, visit local craftspeople and buy, etc. Those who live there jump into the car and visit larger box stores perhaps but they aren't out browsing and shopping on a regular basis the way tourists might. Jerome should be welcoming visitors with open arms!

I've actually stayed at the John Riordan House on an anniversary trip with my wife. What a great opportunity to stay at a historic house that would otherwise be under mud. It's the families prerogative to do what they want with the home. Unless those opposed to the vacation rentals have lived in Jerome their entire lives, they don't have any right to prevent others from coming there and enjoying it just like they once did.

Arizona is a beautiful state,snowbirds have always had a financial impact on towns economy's.Why would anyone want to stop this,especially in a town hurting for economic growth?

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Jerome has many hotels and B&Bs for visitors to stay in, and there seems to be no problem with businesses welcoming tourists. It always seems busy and thriving when I've been there. I wonder how people who have commented here would feel if their neighborhoods were taken over by vacation rentals and they had empty houses all around them. Small towns need their residential base in order to function, and if you don't realize that you've probably never lived in a small town. Cities and towns have zoning ordinances for a reason.

I was born and raised in Jerome, and now as an adult am broken hearted to see the local culture lose out to money. Frankly, where the vacation rental is doesn't matter. What matters is that developers or families hoping to make money on a vacation rental renovate with out being attuned to our local culture. They make these renovations look like they are in Scottsdale. Here in Jerome we like our cracked sidewalks, cobblestone streets and cement retaining walls. If you want to visit our town because of our fun, quirky local culture great! But don't let Jerome lose it's magic because you want to stay in a "fixed up" vacation rental. Yes, some of the Jerome economy relies on tourism. Tourism is far from our identity though.

they should be licensed, inspected and insured. Just like every other business that provides service to customers. It isn't right that they use the city's infrastructure and pay no taxes to the city.the business owner should apply for a zoning exception

If any other domicile in any of those "zones" happens to be rented on any basis, then there is probably no language in code that requires rentals to be longer than any specified period of time. It would be like saying that you can only shop in Jerome if you commit to shopping there for at least a month, or six, or a year... Rudiculous

I'm surprised the complaint came from a business owner.

Staying in a rented home on the side of a mountain would be appealing to many folks. Folks with money to spend. Jerome should tax the rentals to help with infrastructure upgrades. It would be a win-win for the tourist and the city.

Sounds EXACTLY what is going on in SF w/ the Air B&B controversy. Some say it's illegal; others say it brings in needed revenue.

Small town mentality will provide Jerome with low to slow economics and a small town.

I have often photographed in Jerome. Nice town, nice folks. But I would think if someone is willing to buy a historic property & renovate it / restore it to its original glory. I would let them rent it out! What a wonderful way to preserve the decay of such a beautiful place! Is Jerome just an artist colony or do you actually wanting to sale your wares? Would you allow a beautiful town with a wonderful history fall down the hillside or would you do whatever it took to save it? I don't live there but honestly I have thought about it as a second home! But now I'm not so sure, because I would have to rent it to keep it & if that's the attitude why bother when you could go to Bisbee super friendly & welcoming town.

All I can say is Jerome is a fun place to visit. I loved the shops and the outlook from the top of their mountain is gorgeous. So just stop fighting and enjoy. It's a very unique place to visit.

One of the things that makes Jerome such a wonderful place are the people who actually live here. The quirky local people. More vacation rentals means less places for people who actually want to live here. The people who invest in their community because it is their home. A lot of Jerome runs on volunteer effort. Yes Jerome has many visitors that spend money, but what would it be without the local people? I've seen a lot of people move down to the valley in the past few years because they cant find places to rent here. The local people are the people who make Jerome what it is. It is a shame for me to see so many homes reserved for the tourists dollars instead of being for the people who actually want to make Jerome their home.

John Riordan House owner Glenn Odegard had some technical difficulties posting a comment, so he emailed us a response: When I first purchased The John Riordan House in June of 2012, my intent was to restore and preserve a rich piece of Jerome history. Arizona in general is devoid of historical buildings and towns, unlike our east coast counterparts. It is so critical for each and every building to remain intact so that collectively they preserve the character and integrity of Jerome. This house typifies what every resident of Jerome has to contributed to some degree to preserve the town’s rich unique architectural and mining heritage. The ability to stay and use the home as a retreat for myself and my family is wonderful and we utilize it often. When not being used by us, it is extremely gratifying and fulfilling to also share the living experience in Jerome with others. Many former residents or relatives of current and former residents of Jerome have stayed at The John Riordan House. One guest was the 86 year old brother of a local resident that was personally hired by John Riordan in 1943 to work in the mine. That guest was also friends of the two still living Riordan brothers, who are both in their mid 80’s. They all use to play in and around the house in the 1940’s. To have them come back, reminisce, stay in the same house and again experience their childhood in Jerome is priceless. Another couple would always visit Jerome while they were dating. They viewed the house for years buried in mud. On subsequent trips they watched the reconstruction process of the house. The house is so meaningful to them that they are staying in the The John Riordan House for their honeymoon. There are countless other stories of guests of the house who have strong ties and memories of Jerome in very personal way. The option to let others experience the unique lifestyle, history and wonderful year round weather in Jerome is one that should be preserved for all to enjoy. Glenn Odegard

At the core of this issue is the importance of preserving community and neighborhoods. The fear is that Jerome's neighborhoods, lived in by the people that helped preserve Jerome after mining abandoned it in 1953, will become abandoned to vacation rentals. There are small coastal towns in Oregon that become virtually nothing but vacation rentals during the summer. There's no community. The community has fled to reap the big dollars their homes can command. It's a valid fear in Jerome. The story of how Jerome got saved after mining is told in by book, Home Sweet Jerome. See recent http://www.arizonahighways.com/blog/qa-new-book-traces-town-jeromes-transformation

Cynthia Barber's comment is the most grounded and relevant point here. Only a native (as she is) or long term resident of Jerome can understand the strain that this type of gentrification can yield. Sometimes, a community is not only about the money.

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