Asheville took a big step down the road to limiting short-term rentals as the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of an amendment to the city’s zoning code on Jan. 3.
P&Z voted to recommend that City Council approve changes to the code to define “short-term vacation rentals,” or STVRs, separately from other types of lodging and to restrict where those rentals are permitted as a use by right.
Shannon Tuch, zoning administrator, told P&Z the amendment seeks to do three things: define lodging types that had previously been undefined; designate where each use is allowed; and require an annual permit for short-term vacation rentals. “Generally speaking, lodging facilities are going to be much more limited in where they can go moving forward without building in one of the lodging expansion districts,” she said.
P&Z Chair Laura Berner Hudson asked Tuch to reiterate the bottom line of the amendment. “So any short-term vacation rental now has to go through the entire conditional zoning process?” Hudson asked.
“Yes, unless it’s in the resort district,” Tuch responded. City Attorney Robin Currin clarified that this only applies to new STVRs; those that have already been submitted to the city for approval or that are already in place will be considered under the rules at the time of their application.
Under the proposed amendment, short-term vacation rentals are defined as “a dwelling unit with up to six guest rooms that is used and/or advertised through an online platform, or other media, for transient occupancy for a period of less than one month.” The change also creates new categories for large, small and extended-stay hotels and refines the definitions of bed-and-breakfasts and boardinghouses.
The new wording also nails down what a “dwelling unit” is and states: “In no case shall a dwelling unit be rented or leased for intervals of less than one month.” A dwelling unit means “one or more rooms physically arranged so as to create an independent housekeeping establishment for occupancy by one family with separate toilets and facilities for cooking and sleeping rooms and a kitchen,” the proposed amendment states. Homestays, which refers to a resident-occupied dwelling unit with up to two guest rooms, would still be permitted with special restrictions.
The move to target short-term vacation rentals has picked up steam in recent months as City Council has been made aware of a large and increasing number of illegal STVRs operating in residential districts, where they have already been banned, as well as new and existing condo units being converted from residential to lodging use in commercial districts where they are allowed.
During public comment at the P&Z meeting, Peter Landis, representing Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors, implored the commission to restrict STVRs in the central business district. “A strong residential community does a lot to strengthen an urban core,” he said. “Space available for residential use in the CBD is limited. Every unit turned into a short-term rental is one less unit that can become someone’s home.” He said the tourists who make use of STVRs are welcome but they don’t contribute to the long-term health of the city the way that residents do.
Musician and recent City Council candidate Andrew Fletcher said residents who help create the city’s character have been kicked out of spaces in order to make room for Airbnbs. “I think it’s important to prevent our city from becoming another Aspen, or another city that’s been completely dominated by outsiders,” he said.
P&Z members expressed reluctance to implement an outright ban on STVRs across the city. Jim Edmonds said he understands the city’s desire to monitor short-term rentals, but he worries that stopping their expansion could also put a stop to their positive effects. He said he was also hesitant to put regulations on neighborhoods without hearing more from residents of those areas.
Hudson said STVRs have brought visitors to the city, which has in turn fueled a housing boom. She wondered if rather than banning such rentals, the city could use them to its advantage. “I think we would be remiss if we didn’t look at leveraging short-term rentals … because a lot of times they are used to subsidize housing. I don’t think they are technically necessarily completely negative,” she said.
While supporting a ban in residential districts, Hudson suggested the city look at allowing developers a certain percentage of STVRs in new construction if they are also providing affordable units. “I think we could get something out of it instead of just stopping the pipeline,” she said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved recommending the wording amendment in a vote of 4-1, with Hudson, Joe Archibald, Tony Hauser and Guillermo Rodriguez voting in favor and Edmonds voting against it. It now moves to City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.