Planning Commission OKs Airbnb, food truck regulations

Staff writer

Following Planning Commission’s approval at its Dec. 19 meeting, a small segment of homeowners could soon be allowed to rent rooms in their homes through services like Airbnb, and food trucks could be allowed in the city’s commercial districts.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved the two amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance which would allow short-term room rentals and food trucks to operate in the city so long as they follow a set of restrictions.

The issues were last discussed by the board in October, where Planning Commission members weighed the positives and negatives of allowing Airbnbs and heard a presentation on a list of recommendations made by a food truck work group, which included members of the city’s staff along with local restaurant and food truck owners.

Short-term rentals

Planning Commission approved the set of regulations for short-term rentals in a 6-1 vote. Board member Caleb Rogers cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that short-term rentals should be allowed in more of the city’s residential neighborhoods to make homes more affordable for potential buyers.

Currently, the city code does not allow homeowners to rent their homes out through popular short-term rental services like Airbnb, but if approved by City Council, the ordinance would allow homeowners living along the city’s entrance corridors to rent one bedroom in their homes to visitors for a maximum of 30 days per renter.

These entrance corridors are listed as: the stretch of Capitol Landing Road from Lafayette Street to Queens Creek, Henry Street between Lafayette Street and Mimosa Drive, Jamestown Road, Lafayette Street, Page Street and a section of Richmond Road between Brooks Street and Virginia Avenue.

The ordinance approved by Planning Commission restricts Airbnb rentals to one room in a single family owned-occupied home. According to Carolyn Murphy, director of the city’s Planning Department, 58 homes along these entrance corridors fit under that category.

Board member Greg Granger said that, by restricting Airbnbs to the city’s entrance corridors, where traditional bed and breakfasts are already allowed to operate, the change won’t be surprising for neighbors who are already accustomed to seeing tourists regularly staying in their neighborhoods.

“It allows for it to take place in our community, but in specific areas, so if someone chooses to move into an area where it’s allowed, then they shouldn’t be surprised if they’ve got transient visitors staying next to them,” he said. “I feel as comfortable as I’m going to be with this because it’s in specific areas where a similar product is already happening.”

In order to rent their homes as Airbnbs, homeowners would be required to have a business license issued by the Williamsburg Commissioner of Revenue, and would have to get approval from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which carries a $300 application fee. Homeowners would also have to pay personal property taxes on every item in the room being rented.

“This is something that we can continue to think about as we go through the Comprehensive Plan process more broadly, but this is the center of that venn diagram where I think everyone can agree that these areas are more eligible for this,” said Planning Commission Chairwoman Elaine McBeth.

Food trucks

The board also unanimously approved an ordinance that would allow food trucks to operate in busy areas including High Street, downtown and midtown with a special-use permit, along with a limited number of events on private property.

The ordinance establishes a 100-foot buffer between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks in downtown Williamsburg. Food trucks looking to operate in these commercial districts would have to pay a $50 permit application fee for each event, and the Williamsburg Fire Department would be required to inspect trucks prior to the issuance of a business license and on each day that the truck is in operation.

Today, Williamsburg allows food trucks to operate within its boundaries in two ways. The first is through a special-use permit, which is reviewed and approved by the city manager’s office as long as the event is on public property. Food trucks are also allowed in the city’s Culinary Arts District along Capitol Landing Road from Colonial Parkway to Merrimac Trail.

Murphy also said that Colonial Williamsburg’s Palace Farms at 100 Visitor Center Drive, recently approved by City Council as the future site of an outdoor event venue, would also be allowed to house food trucks with a special-use permit under the approved ordinance.

If approved by City Council, the ordinance would also allow food trucks in residential areas for up to two special events per year.

Both zoning amendments will now go before City Council for final approval at its next regular meeting Jan. 10.

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

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