ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The St. Louis alderman who recused himself from short-term rental hearings because of a possible conflict-of-interest had a voice in shaping some of the city’s zoning regulations.
In April, the St. Louis Planning Commission held a virtual meeting to establish key definitions associated with short-term rentals as it relates to land use and permits.
Alderman Shane Cohn, who serves on the commission, drove the conversation surrounding how properties should be classified.
The commission spent most of its time talking about how properties should be zoned and permitted. They specifically discussed the difference between properties where an owner occupies the property and non-owner occupied.
“I think each unit is an independent unit that’s how we look at all this in housing conservation, for example,” St. Louis Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said. “Each of these units would have to have an inspection and be considered an individual unit. I don’t think it’s any different in this situation.”
Ward 3 Alderman Shane Cohn questioned the proposed definitions.
“If somebody has a two family or an additional dwelling unit on the back of their house, they want to use it as a short-term rental, the other unit is not occupied. It would not be considered an owner-occupied dwelling unit, even though it’s the same building or same parcel of land,” Cohn said.
His question is an interesting one, because it’s his exact living situation. Cohn owns a duplex. Cohn lives in one unit, and he operates an Airbnb in the other.
“That would be a different concern, cause the owner is still at that property,” Cohn said in the meeting.
Oswald told the commission that he did not believe the Board bill defined it as one way or another.
“We’re voting on definitions here. They should be clear,” Cohn said.
Cohn’s comments and questions brought more questions. The commission voted, including Cohn, to get revised definitions but at no point during the meeting did Cohn say he’s an Airbnb super host or that his questions and concerns have a direct effect on him.
“It’s been moved we carry it over to the next meeting with clarified definitions, seconded by Aldermen Cohn,” the commission’s chairman said.
Cohn then voted for the city to bring back clarified definitions.
Records reveal Cohn was absent in May’s commission meeting when the definitions were voted and approved.
In June, Cohn recused himself from discussing short-term rentals after the Fox Files uncovered his short-term rental property while also chairing a committee overseeing proposed short-term rental legislation.
At the time, Cohn said he had no plans to partake in a vote but wanted to be part of the education and public hearing process.
Cohn claimed he thought his colleagues knew about his short-term rentals, however, at least two elected officials were in the dark about it.
In June, Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said her office was notified about the Airbnbs.
“I thought the entire committee had been notified as well,” Green said at the time.
At the time, Green said Cohn was “in alignment” with Prop R, which prohibits alderpersons from taking action on policies where they have a personal or financial conflict of interest.
“That was not interpreted as meaning as you could not preside over a meeting,” Green said.
City records obtained under Missouri’s Sunshine Law reveal Cohn had not disclosed his Airbnb property until June 22, the same day the FOX Files started asking questions.
“Out of an abundance of caution, Alderman Cohn disclosed his conflict to my office and volunteered to step aside as committee chair during hearings on short term rental legislation,” Green said on Monday. “In doing so, the alderman demonstrated our shared commitment to working with integrity and transparency. This is how things at the board should work.”
The city’s ordinance requires any alderperson to disclose when they have a “substantial or private interest” in any measure that includes:
- 10% or more of any business entity
- An interest having a value of $10,000 or more
- The receipt of a salary, gratuity, or other compensation or remuneration of $5,000 or more, per year from any individual, partnership, organization or association within any calendar year.
It’s unclear how much Cohn made off his Airbnbs.
It’s within the Board of Aldermen’s power to broaden its stance on disclosing conflicts of interest.
A spokesperson for Green said Monday that she will always be supportive of measures that seek to deliver transparent, accountable governance.
Cohn did not respond to our request for a comment.