Planning Commission approves Airbnb special use permit recommendation

The Planning Commission recommended approval of a special use permit for a couple that operates Airbnb rentals inside their home in the Merrimac Trail neighborhood. The approval came after a debate over the scope of the committee's authority, and whether or not a "fair and equitable" process could be put in place for renters.

Shelby Dillon and her husband Patrick have been operating Airbnb rentals at their home since last year. Shelby Dillon said after being contacted by a Bed and Breakfast owner through the site she applied for a special use permit through the county.

"We didn’t want to be landlords, which is why we didn’t rent it out on a long term basis," Dillon said. "It was not our intention to get in the middle of a hornet's nest with Airbnb."

Commissioner Robin Bledsoe said she wanted the rentals to take place, but wanted to make sure they were happening "in a way that’s fair safe and equitable to everyone that’s involved," she said.

"We need to look at economic development, we need to ensure that hotels and established Bed and Breakfasts are protected," said Commissioner Heath Richardson.  "We certainly have a lot more to consider than some other areas."

But Commissioner Rich Krapf disagreed.

"I’m concerned some of my colleagues would vote no because they want to protect hotels or bed and breakfasts," said Krapf. "Free enterprise is built on allowing entrepreneurs to come forward with new and innovative ideas.

"I feel we’re supposed to look at every entity as its own location," Krapf said.

"I’m not here to lobby for the hotel industry or the bed and breakfast industry, I don’t want anybody to think that I was..I think you should get credit where credit is due, I don’t think we should set up a process without thinking it through if there's a detriment to those who have always played by the rules," Bledsoe said.

She said there were at least 200 listings on Airbnb.

The General Assembly is considering legislation that would expand homeowners ability to use the short term rentals, limiting restrictions imposed by localities and homeowner's associations.

The special use permit recommendation was passed 4-3 with a sunset clause for two years.

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