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Bristol Virginia Planning Commission working on short-term rental regulations

Bristol Virginia Planning Commission working on short-term rental regulations

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BRISTOL, Va. — The city’s Planning Commission discussed potential regulations for private short-term residential rentals Monday.

Last month the commission formed a committee to study existing regulations and the impacts of individuals renting out residential spaces, including homes, apartments and townhouses, to families, groups or other travelers.

The city currently has about 20 people leasing spaces through Airbnb, Vrbo or other, similar services, but no means for direct oversight, city Planner Jay Detrick told the commission during its regular meeting.

None of the other Tri-Cities have short-term rental regulations in place, but Abingdon does, Detrick said.

Virginia state law defines short-term rentals as spaces occupied for less than 30 consecutive days.

“Virginia code also allows a locality, by ordinance, to establish a short-term rental registry and require operators within the locality to register annually,” Detrick told the commission. “A locality may charge a reasonable fee for such registration related to actual costs of establishing and maintaining the registry.”

It also allows for penalties if operators fail to register.

If approved, operators would be required to have a business license and to collect and remit lodging taxes, just as hotels and motels do.

A resolution is now being drafted that will ultimately be brought before the commission, the City Council and a public hearing before it can be approved.

“The committee recommends no restrictions for zoning districts. They could be located in any residential property. It wouldn’t just have to be in R-1 (single-family) or R-2 (multi-family). We have a lot of residential properties located in business or manufacturing districts, so we would not necessarily restrict the location,” Detrick said.

The city expects to create a registry and is considering a $25 annual fee, although commission member Ed Harlow suggested it should be higher to cover all the costs.

Other considerations include a rule that only the owner of a property would be able to operate a short-term residential business, although they wouldn’t necessarily have to live at the property.

“If there are complaints for the operation of the rental, we feel there should be some type of consequence written into the code. A complaint would need to be legitimate and verifiable — such as a police report, not getting a phone call three days after saying somebody was loud at an Airbnb — that there should be a way to track that,” Detrick said.

Regulations could also include establishing authority to inspect a property if there are safety or sanitation complaints and to require adequate parking for rental units.

Mayor Anthony Farnum, a commission member, said he supports some guidelines because he expects more such units in the years ahead.

Commission Chairman Daniel Shew is currently offering such rentals. He said he welcomes the oversight.

“When we opened our first one in our house, we called (former planner) Sally Morgan and asked what we needed to do, and there was nothing we needed to do then,” Shew said after the meeting. “We’ve been preparing for this day to come, especially since Abingdon changed and added regulations.

“I support it. I don’t think it should be high fees and strong regulations to prohibit that type of growth, but I think everything should have some regulations in the city.”

The rentals offer the appeal of lower costs and cultural experiences, he said.

“It’s a culture. It really is. It’s usually less expensive than a hotel or comparable to an inexpensive hotel,” Shew said. “I think people are interested in staying with other people and experiencing towns from a neighborhood standpoint and being part of that. People stay in our house because they’ve never stayed in a Victorian house before.”

The matter is expected to come back before the commission next month.

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