Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Planning Commission approves short-term rental proposal

Staff //February 1, 2018//

Planning Commission approves short-term rental proposal

Staff //February 1, 2018//

Listen to this article

The Charleston Planning Commission approved a proposed ordinance to regulate short-term rentals across the city Wednesday night, pushing the proposal to City Council.

The 5-3 vote came at the end of a nearly two-hour meeting that included 35 public comments from city residents and 50 minutes of discussion between commissioners, mainly about parking requirements and the age of structures being used for short-term rentals. Angie Johnson, Elise Davis McFarland and Terry Seabrook voted against the measure. Sunday Lempesis was absent.

Wednesday’s meeting was the sixth time the Planning Commission had met on the issue since October when the city’s Short-Term Rental Task Force presented its recommendations after more than a year of discussion.

The Planning Commission vote, which had to be taken twice to avoid a split decision and the failure of the proposal, was pushed along by Mayor John Tecklenburg, who was the first speaker during the public comment period. He implored commissioners to agree on what they could and move the proposed ordinance to City Council.

“I think you’ve got the bones of something the council can deliberate upon … but I just ask you because it’s been long enough,” he said.

The recommendations of Planning Commission are similar to what the Short-Term Rental Task Force recommended at the end of their process, with a few noteworthy differences: the restriction of four adults per short-term rental has been replaced with a two person per bedroom restriction, and short term rental operators might have a third-party run their rental units for 72 days out of the year. A motion by Harry Lesesne to limit the third-party management to 45 days failed 4-4 at Wednesday’s meeting.

The Planning Commission also voted 5-3 to change a 50-year age requirement for structures being used for short-term rentals to a five-year age requirement to try to prevent purpose-built construction. The commission had previously removed the requirement altogether.

“I’d like to see some age limit,” said Charles Karesh, the member of the Planning Commission who proposed the motion. “I think 50 was way up, but five is reasonable.”

Most of the other regulations proposed by the task force, including a requirement that the property owner be on-site overnight, were left intact. A managed short-term rental would not require the manager to be on the property overnight, but would require that the manager be available to public safety or city officials within one hour.

Jacob Lindsey, planning director for the city, said at Wednesday’s meeting that city staff endorses the original recommendations from the Short-Term Rental Task Force, as did many of the speakers at the meeting.

“Our main concerns are the whole house rentals and the 72-day leeway, which would allow a house to be rented anywhere from 24 to 37 weekends a year,” said Phyllis Ewing, president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association. “We are also concerned if people are plotting the neighborhoods [as] residential neighborhoods, they deserve the benefit of the BAR and the zoning, and we want that kept.”

Some members of the Short-Term Rental Task Force also spoke in favor of the commission approving the task force’s recommendations, including Kristopher King, Christopher Cody and Peggy Malaspina.

Other city residents, such as Ginger Scofield, urged Planning Commission to not be as restrictive as the task force suggested.

“We all can agree that there should be regulations,” she said. “I would even suggest a limit on how many each owner can have. … But I would urge you to be a lot more lenient on the regulations and punish the bad actors. Don’t punish the people like me.”

Despite the back-and forth of both city residents and commission members, commissioner Chris Fraser pressed the commission to vote on the proposal.

“We could sit here all night, but the mayor has asked us to move something forward,” he said. “This is imperfect. It’s going to stay imperfect, and we’re going to have to visit it again, but I move we adopt the ordinance as amended this evening.”

Lindsey said City Council will take up the issue at the Feb. 26 meeting.

Short-term rental recommendation

The current proposed regulations are nearly identical to what the Short-Term Rental Task Force recommended in September, including a three-tiered class system depending on where in the city the property is located. Class 1 encompasses the area zoned as the Old and Historic District; Class 2 covers the area zoned as the Old City District; and Class 3 is the rest of the city (.pdf).

Other proposals include:

  • Properties must be owner-occupied primary residences, as determined by the 4% owner-occupied property tax status.
  • All hosts must apply for a short-term rental permit and a separate business license. Hosts must list their permit number on all advertisements of their rental unit and display their business license within the property.
  • Hosts must be on the property overnight when guests are present. The Planning Commission’s version includes also allowing “managed short-term rentals,” which would let property owners hire an off-site manager for their short-term rental for up to 72 days per year while the owner is away.
  • No more than two people are permitted per bedroom in each short-term rental. This is a change from the task force’s recommendation of only four adults per short-term rental.
  • Short-term rentals must provide one, off-street parking spot for guests per bedroom, with all parking on the property where the short-term rental is proposed. For Class 1 and Class 2 rentals, the second bedroom rented is exempt from this requirement. For Class 3 rentals, the first bedroom rented is exempted from the requirement.
  • Class 1 properties must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to be used as short-term rentals. The Planning Commission revised a requirement for Class 2 and Class 3 short-term rentals, changing the required age of the structure being used for short-term rentals from 50 years to five years to prevent purpose-built construction.
  • Hosts must carry $1 million in liability insurance.
  • The Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood, which falls under short-term rental regulations that were passed in 2012, is currently excluded from the proposed new regulations. Existing bed-and-breakfast facilities are also exempt from the proposed regulations.

No changes in city ordinances will be made until City Council considers the proposal.