Airbnb back before county planners

abogues@vagazette.com

The Planning Commission is poised to hear from another applicant for a special use permit for Airbnb rentals on Wednesday.

It's the second consecutive month the commission will consider such an application; the group narrowly refused to recommend granting a permit to a couple in early May.

Patrick and Shelby Dillon have applied for the special use permit to rent their Merrimac Trail home.

Airbnb rentals have become a flashpoint debate in James City County, which relies heavily on tourism dollars generated through hotel taxes. Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors signed onto a letter urging legislators to limit the amount of rental activity that can take place at private residences.

According to documents posted on the county's website, a planning staff review found the rentals compatible with the county's comprehensive plan and recommended the commission approve of the project, which would need to be signed off on by the Board of Supervisors.

County staff said the special use permit may be subject to a restrictive use covenant in the neighborhood, which could affect the rentals, but staff called it a "private matter" that the county should not address.

"The subject property is located on a major right-of-way which is capable of handling traffic generated by the proposed use. The subject property is a corner lot which fronts on two roadways, effectively isolating it from other residential properties in James Terrace Subdivision," the staff memo says.

Last month Kathy and Bruce Williamson, who live in the upscale Lakewood subdivision, were denied recommendation of their permit application. Some of their neighbors complained the rentals would bring unwanted traffic and strangers into the community. The Board of Supervisors will make a final decision on their case later this summer.

Similar to the Williamson's case, county staff received an anonymous tip that the Dillon's property was being operated without the permit, according to staff documents. Afterward, county staff said the Dillons submitted a conceptual plan and applied for the special use permit.

"While the property shares a boundary line with three adjacent residences, that shared frontage is well buffered via existing via vegetation and provides appropriate parking capacity.The existing driveway is of significant length, is screened from the road via vegetation and provides appropriate parking capacity," it continues.

The General Assembly is considering legislation that would expand homeowners' ability to use temporary short-term rentals, like the ones used on Airbnb.

Paul Holt, Planning Director for James City County, said he did not know how many homes in the county were utilizing Airbnb. "I have no idea, I don't think we've gone out and looked. We respond to these mainly on a complaint basis," Holt said. He said there were no more special use permit applications in queue for consideration at the moment besides the Lake Drive property and the one in Merrimac Trail.

Bogues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346.

If you want to go

The Planning Commission will meet Wednesday evening at 101 Mounts Bay Road, Suite F. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

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