Williamsburg officials lobby against Airbnb bills

svaughan@vagazette.com

Bills to allow homeowners to rent out all or part of their homes for up to 30 days through a web hosting platform — the business model of Airbnb — advanced in both the House and the Senate.

That's not a good thing for the city, which made opposing such bills part of its legislative package.

HB 812, sponsored by Del. Christopher Peace, R-Hanover, and SB 416, sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, were reported from committee, in most cases the step that sends the bill forward for consideration by the entire House of Delegates or Senate.

The Senate bill was reported from Senate General Laws and Technology by a 12-2 vote on Jan. 16, but was re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee which has yet to act on it.

The Department of Taxation places a fiscal impact of $25,000 in Fiscal Years 2016 and $410,000 in Fiscal years 2017 and 2018, meaining it will cost the state that much to implement the law.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, opposes the bills. He co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, where the Senate version of the bill currently resides.

"He's opposed to the bill and he's committed to do everything in his power to defeat it," Jeff Ryer, a member of the senator's staff said Friday.

Ryer said the senator had received a letter from city staff on the issue.

In fact, a letter opposing the bills signed by Mayor Clyde Haulman went to Norment, House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the city's delegation, Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, and Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News.

"The city staff have reviewed House Bill 812 and Senate Bill 416.The city of Williamsburg is opposed to the bills as currently being considered. By removing local decision making and enforcement from the proposed Limited Residential Lodging Act these bills make the effort to preserve these neighborhoods as places were people want to live far more difficult," said the city's letter to the governor.

That's the crux of the problem. The city has very specific rules and regulations for bed and breakfast establishments. They are limited in the number of rooms they can rent, they are only allowed along certain entrance corridors to the city, the number that can operate on each corridor is spelled out and they also have to have sufficient parking for the number of rooms they propose renting.

The justification is that bed and breakfasts are commercial establishments in or adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

The bills in the General Assembly would override those regulations.

"The amended bill will require localities to allow limited residential lodging in all zoning districts where residential occupancy is allowed. We have some concerns, but we continue to monitor the legislation closely," city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann said Friday afternoon..

Mason said that he's meeting with city officials this weekend on the bills. He said he met today with the people who are actively working on the bill in the Genearal Assembly.

"The city raises some good points. This is very much still a work in progress and we do need to clarify in the bills that they don't override local zoning ordinances," he said. "I met today with legislators and explained the city's concerns."

He said the purpose of the bill isn't to override local regulations.

"The main purpose is to allow for colleciton of taxes on those rentals so they can be returned to the localities" he said.

Miller said he had "grave concerns about this legislation."

"I don't think we should be undermining local ordinances and how they regulate b and bs," he said.

Vaughan can be reached at (757)345-2343.

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