Supervisors delay vote on legalizing short-term rentals

Published 1:47 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors postponed action on a proposed zoning ordinance change that would legalize and regulate short-term rentals after its chairman raised concerns.

Chairman William McCarty called the proposed approval process in the ordinance “exhausting and absurd.” He followed his remarks during the Nov. 16 meeting with a motion to table the matter to the board’s Dec. 14 meeting, which passed unanimously.

The county currently allows the rental of up to two bedrooms to two unrelated people in owner-occupied homes, but doesn’t define whole-house short-term rentals as a permitted use in any zoning designation, effectively prohibiting them countywide. Pending a vote on the proposed changes, Isle of Wight has deferred enforcing its de facto ban on an estimated dozen homes operating – illegally according to county officials – on rental websites like AirBnB and Vrbo.

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At its Oct. 24 meeting, Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission voted to send proposed changes to supervisors with their unanimous recommendation for approval, which would require a conditional use permit for all short-term rentals regardless of zoning.

The conditional use permit process requires an applicant pay a $1,200 fee to cover the county’s cost of advertising mandatory public hearings in multiple newspapers, something McCarty contends would create an “undue burden” for applicants and “a backlog of bogged-down meetings” to accommodate hearings on each after-the-fact approval request.

In addition to the cost for the permit, applicants would be required under the proposed ordinance changes to pay an annual $35 registration fee. Failure to register within 30 days of advertising a short-term rental would trigger a $500 penalty for each day past the deadline the property remains unregistered. The ordinance changes would require a rental’s registration number to be listed on all advertisements.

In accordance with state law, properties already licensed or registered by the Virginia Real Estate Board, Department of Health or under the Virginia Real Estate Time-Share Act would be exempt from needing a separate county registry.

McCarty and Vice Chairman Joel Acree said they’d rather see the approval process work similar to the procedure already in place for residents to add accessory mobile homes to their properties for extended family members.

According to the county’s website, placing a family-member mobile home on your property requires a 30-day window for notification of neighbors. Only if written objection is received during that time does it trigger the start of the conditional use permit process and associated $1,200 fee.

The supervisors also discussed whether to reinstate language the Planning Commission removed, which would allow short-term rentals “by right” in rural agricultural and rural residential zoning, meaning no approval by the supervisors would be required for rentals in those zoning districts. The Planning Commission had cited opposition by residents to a short-term rental operating on North Shore Drive in the county’s Rushmere Shores neighborhood as their reason for removing the language, though the property is zoned neighborhood conservation.

Unchanged from the version of the ordinance the Planning Commission advanced are provisions that would define short-term rentals as fee-based stays of less than 30 days and cap the number of overnight guests age 18 and up at two per bedroom. The maximum number of occupants in a rental home at any given time would be capped at twice the maximum number of allowed overnight guests. Only the maximum number of overnight guests would be allowed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Another provision that may or may not change based on whether a conditional use permit would allow the county to revoke said permit in the event of three or more “substantiated complaints of violation of applicable state or local laws” within one calendar year, failure to maintain compliance with any zoning regulation, or two or more failures by the rental’s “authorized agent” to respond within 30 minutes to “address conditions occurring” at the property.

The proposed changes would strike and replace the existing provisions allowing the rental of up to two-bedrooms in an owner-occupied house to two unrelated people. Any prohibition on short-term rentals enacted by a homeowners association would supersede the proposed approval process.