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City Officials Hear Potential Options On Short Term Rental Rules

By Cece Nunn, posted Feb 20, 2017
A crowd filled the Lord Spencer Compton Room at City Hall on Monday morning to hear city staff recommendations on regulating short-term rentals. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
City staff members presented potential options Monday to the Wilmington City Council for regulating short-term rentals in residential areas, including allowing them for special events only or up to a total of 30 days during the calendar year.

In commercial or residential areas, short-term rentals would require annual registrations, according to the recommendations.

The presentation to a conference room packed with people was part of a council work session held Monday morning after the council’s regular agenda briefing. The council made no decisions on the recommendations, but members had numerous questions and concerns about the suggestions, compiled after council members discussed the matter during a meeting at Halyburton Park in November.

“I think it’s a big mistake to say ‘events,’ that the city council would delineate every year specific events like Azalea Festival, Riverfest, whatever  . . . because that 30 days would start to grow and grow and grow as people lobby us over the years and we have to keep adding events . . . ,” said Councilwoman Margaret Haynes. “I would just like to see a set number of days rather than saying ‘events.’”

Councilman Kevin O’Grady said he thinks a third alternative should be to not allow short-term rentals in residential areas at all, reiterating his opinion that they are commercial uses that belong in commercial areas.

He also took issue with not requiring certain distances between short-term lodgings in some cases.

“So let me understand: So an entire street could become party central? . . . What about the one person on the block that decides to stay in their house?" said O'Grady, addressing city staff members.

O'Grady said he doesn't think the recommendations tie into the city's Comprehensive Plan, adopted by the council last year as a guide for future growth. 

Councilman Neal Anderson said the recommendations bring up more questions, such as whether event days would be limited to a certain number under one option and how the city would determine the validity of records that could demonstrate whether a rental has a primary resident.

Under short-term rental recommendations presented Monday, a primary resident, though not necessarily the homeowner, would be required for short-term lodging to be offered in residential districts, in single-family homes in multifamily districts and in the city’s historic district (HD), historic district-residential (HD-R) and historic district-mixed use zones. A primary resident would not be required for short-term lodgings in commercial zones where accommodations are allowed.

Occupancy would be limited to two persons per bedroom, and under proposed rules for homestays, guest rooms would be limited to one less than the total number of bedrooms in the primary dwelling unit.

When Councilman Charlie Rivenbark asked senior planner Christine Hughes about what other cities do about bedroom number limitations, she said regulations differ from city to city.

“There’s no really clear standard best practice for this use. Most cities that have undertaken regulation of the use have taken multiple years to come up with the right path forward and even after they’ve adopted rules, they’ve often gone back and changed them…it’s a very difficult, challenging issue,” Hughes said.

Some property owners who offer their homes for short-term rentals say certain city officials want to regulate the practice out of existence, and that to do so would be a detriment to the city’s economy because businesses and property owners would lose out on those visitors’ dollars.

For city officials, the next step will be a public input meeting.

“We want to hear from the community,” Mayor Bill Saffo said at the end of the work session on Monday.

After more public input, any recommendations would have to go before the Wilmington Planning Commission before going back before the City Council for a potential vote, said Glenn Harbeck, director of planning, development and transportation for Wilmington.

“So there’s a long process ahead yet,” he said.
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