Planning Commission considers new short-term rental policy

Staff writer

Homeowners along busy city roads including Lafayette Street and Richmond Road may soon be able to rent out one bedroom through services like Airbnb, following Planning Commission’s Oct. 24 meeting.

At its monthly comprehensive plan meeting, the board revisited its discussion around whether or not to allow short-term rentals in the city, a conversation that began last July. Since then, the board has gathered public input through an online survey and a housing forum last month, and will vote on a final short-term rental ordinance in December.

When the board last discussed the issue, it considered either allowing one-bedroom rentals to transient visitors with no limit on the number of days that the homeowner would be able to rent the room per year, or allowing homeowners to rent their entire homes through short-term rental services for a maximum of 45 days per calendar year.

Early on in their discussion, the board agreed that one-room rentals were a safer option with less of a chance for abuse than whole house rentals.

“Owner-occupied one room rentals is probably the way to go with this,” said Andrew Edwards, the board’s second vice-chair. “There’s been a lot of opposition to short-term rental of whole houses, and I think there’s more opportunity for abuse with that.”

Board member Greg Granger was concerned that the short-term rental policy would be difficult to enforce, and that it might endanger the character of city neighborhoods if allowed to operate outside of the main roads in the city.

“If you have a six-year-old, you want to know that you can let them play in your own backyard without any unexpected people showing up on a consistent basis,” he said. “By limiting the area where this can happen, I think we really preserve that sense of safety for people who live in neighborhoods.”

The board agreed that allowing Airbnbs to operate along the city’s entrance corridors, while are also home to the city’s bed and breakfasts, would create an even playing field. The city’s main entrance corridors include Capital Landing Road, Henry Street, Jamestown Road, Lafayette Street and Richmond Road.

“There really is no difference between this and a regular B&B except you don’t get food, so why would we treat it any differently,” said board member Jeffrey Klee. “In terms of land use, in terms of how we maintain the quality and character of town, none of those issues change just because this system is delivered through the web. This is just another variety of bed and breakfast and that’s how we should treat it, it’s just a kind of sub-species.”

According to their discussion, a potential short-term rental policy would allow homeowners living in those entrance corridors to rent one bedroom in their homes to visitors for a maximum of 30 days per renter, with no limit on the amount of renters allowed per year.

Carolyn Murphy, the city’s director of planning and codes compliance, said homeowners interested in renting a room in their homes through Airbnb would first have to apply for a business license with the city, and would have to get approval from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which carries a $300 application fee.

“There’s not an insignificant cost to do this for a property owner,” she said.

City staff will now draft a short-term rental ordinance for Planning Commission to review at its December meeting. If approved, it would then go to City Council for a public hearing in January.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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