[image-1] Charleston’s Planning Commission again held off on making any firm decisions on the proposed new ordinance that would govern short-term rentals across the city.
Commission chair William Gordon Geer greeted the room full of concerned residents ready to speak out on the issue with the news that no vote would be taken Wednesday evening. Instead, a group workshop will be scheduled in November to allow the Planning Commission to once again meet with city staff and the members of the Short-Term Rental Task Force, who developed the proposed ordinance.
The evening’s discussion on short-term rentals began with a bit of contention as a member of the audience stood and pointed out to the commission that the language of the draft ordinance on their agenda had changed from their previous meeting. The group last met Oct. 5 during a special meeting with the city’s Short-Term Task Force. At that time, the Planning Commission voted to defer any vote on the proposed ordinance, voicing their concerns with several key portions of the task force’s recommendations.
City Planning Director Jacob Lindsey, who has overseen the task force’s work over the past year, said he was unaware of any changes to the draft, but he was soon corrected by Zoning Administrator Lee Batchelder.
“The ordinance is a work in progress, and it’s getting very, very close,” said Batchelder. “But it’s not finished yet because there are certain little tweaks that we have to make to make sure we’ve got everything covered, that we’ve addressed every conceivable question that might come up so we don’t have a situation with enforcement of this ordinance that causes us problems. The substance of it has not changed, but their are some revisions that are included in this draft.”
The most recent version of the ordinance maintains that new STR operators can only rent out space in their primary residence and must reside in their home while renting. Homes operating as STRs in the Old and Historic District must be individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Homes operating as STRs in the rest of the city must be at least 50 years old to receive the necessary permit. All current legally operating bed and breakfasts and STRs in the city will be allowed to continue operating under the old regulations.
One key point of concern among the multiple Cannonborough-Elliotborough residents at Wednesday’s meeting was how the proposed rules would affect their neighborhood. In 2012, Cannonborough-Elliotborough became the only portion of the city where short-term rentals are legally permitted. Members of city staff and the Planning Commission assured residents that the neighborhood would be allowed to operate under the rules set five years ago.
While STRs are currently only allowed in commercially zoned areas of Cannonborough-Elliotborough, that hasn’t stopped short-term rentals from proliferating all across the city. Batchelder has previously told the Task Force that the city is currently too understaffed to properly police all the illegal short-term rentals in Charleston. As a part of the new effort to regulate STRs across the city, a request for additional staff dedicated to monitoring STRs will be placed into the next city budget, according to Lindsey.
Enforcement has been a key concern for task force member and representative of the Historic Charleston Foundation Chris Cody. Cody addressed the Planning Commission Wednesday evening, speaking out about a task force recommendation that seems to have gone unnoticed.
“We heard testimony at one of our meetings from our zoning administrator that the city is unable to enforce the law. It was very clear. That is a terrible, powerless feeling for a citizen and a real gut punch to hear that the law can’t be enforced,” said Cody.
During their August meeting, the task force passed an official recommendation to Charleston’s Planning Commission and City Council that calls on the city to undertake “emergency enforcement measures and allocate necessary resources” to address illegal short-term rentals. Many other residents across the peninsula told the Planning Commission Wednesday evening that short-term rentals near their homes were eroding the fabric of Charleston neighborhoods. Countering that argument was a number of residents speaking out in favor of short-term rentals who feel that the proposed ordinance is an overstep and restrictions on short-term rentals violate their rights as property owners.
“I have had a short-term rental facility for the past 20 years. I have never had a complaint from any of my neighbors regarding the occupants of the short-term rental,” said Wilmot Fraser. “I object to the city’s efforts to severely limit the rights of property owners. These properties are not simply ours by some sort of will of the city. These are properties that individuals own. That ownership cannot be simply curtailed by the use of regulation and the overexpansion of the zoning authority.”