Proposed James City changes would allow short-term rentals

jojacobs@vagazette.com

Your neighbor’s guest room could be the next hot vacation accommodation for visitors to the Historic Triangle. That’s if James City supervisors adopt proposed zoning amendments to allow internet-based short-term rentals in the county.

How to handle short-term rentals in local homes facilitated by internet-based companies such as Airbnb has dogged county officials for months. Supervisors have called for a policy for the operations in May and November amid several public inquiries regarding the issue, according to county documents.

It’s been a conversation in Richmond, too. A bill ushered through the 2017 General Assembly session authorized localities to adopt an ordinance to require a registry of people offering short-term rentals. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Thomas “Tommy” Norment (R-James City) was signed into law and went into effect in July.

There are more than 300 listings on Airbnb.com in the Williamsburg area, though some are for hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Change in progress

James City supervisors unanimously voted against proposed zoning amendments to allow short-term rentals at their meeting Tuesday.

Supervisors balked because the proposed amendments would allow short-term rentals to be permitted in residential districts. They preferred such operations require a special-use permit, which they said would provide greater control and community input.

“Hearing these things on a case-by-case basis would make sense. It gives the public an opportunity, neighborhoods an opportunity, to voice their support or concerns,” Supervisor Sue Sadler said.

A public hearing must be held before the board can approve a special-use permit.

Supervisors and staff are expected to revisit the proposed amendments at the board’s May 22 joint work session with the county planning commission. The meeting will allow supervisors to provide guidance to staff to make further alterations, planning director Paul Holt said Thursday.

The rules

As currently written, the proposed zoning amendments would add short-term rentals, which are rented for fewer than 180 days annually, as a permitted use in general agricultural, limited residential, general residential, residential redevelopment, multi-family, low-density residential, rural residential, planned unit development and mixed-use zoning districts.

In most districts, operations limited to a maximum of a single room would be permitted. Operations that consist of more than one room or that would rent rooms more than 180 days a year are a special use. Operators would be required to register with the commissioner of revenue.

Under the form of proposed amendments presented to the board Tuesday, anyone who wants to operate a permitted short-term rental would have to submit an application to the county. The application must include a written affidavit that certifies the applicant’s primary residence address and written authorization for release of tax records to the planning division.

A permitted short-term rental application would be reviewed for rooms proposed to be rented, amount of parking, impact of traffic noise and lighting to surrounding residences.

If all short-term rentals are changed to require a special-use permit, the application process would likely be eliminated, Holt said.

The proposed 180-day maximum of some short-term rentals attracted criticism from county resident James Bradley, who opposes short-term rentals.

Bradley questioned how the county would enforce the restriction and said even that figure is long enough to create conditions that would negatively impact a neighborhood. By his count, an Airbnb operated in his neighborhood for fewer than 180 days a year and still created a dangerous increase in traffic.

“The operation significantly changed the atmosphere of our quiet neighborhood,” said Bradley, who is a resident of Lakewood.

Permitted short-term rentals would have to provide a minimum of two off-street parking spaces. Commercial events, such as banquets, weddings and charitable fundraising would be prohibited.

In August, supervisors approved zoning amendments to allow rural landowners to use their properties for for-profit ventures, allowing events such as weddings or corporate parties with a maximum of 300 guests as a permitted use.

In the Triangle

In Williamsburg, city staff recommended that if the city allows short-term rentals through services such as Airbnb, it should consider doing so only in the western portion of the city, which includes portions of Henry and Scotland streets, because the area has a sizable number of renters.

City officials would like to gather more information and see additional state legislation on the subject.

“We need to go out and find some facts about what effects this has had on other localities,” Vice Mayor Scott Foster said at a City Council meeting in September.

City staff’s draft zoning amendments presented to City Council in September would allow short-term rentals in single-family houses occupied by the owner. No rental property can also function as a short-term rental, and no more than two bedrooms would be available for rent.

City officials say the operations don’t pay their share of taxes compared to traditional tourist accommodations.

In York, short-term rentals are permitted in limited business and general business districts but require a special-use permit in residential districts, York principal planner Tim Cross said.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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