Council divided but leaning tough on short-term rentals

RENT: Short term rentals in Asheville are a hot topic because they toe the line between residents being able to afford living here, and selling out local culture.

It’s not yet clear what action Asheville City Council members will take on short-term rentals, a common but controversial practice in which property owners rent space for 30 days or less without being present in the homes. But Council is leaning toward stiffer fines, stricter enforcement and a continued ban in residential areas.

STRs violate the city’s Unified Development Ordinance when done in residential areas, but they’ve become common via such services as Airbnb: There are an estimated 680 short-term rentals operating in Asheville, but they’re only allowed in commercial zones.

At their May 12 meeting, Council took no formal vote on the issue but gave carefully worded opinions,  some members cautioning that Asheville would lose its character if STR regulations are relaxed.

“Lots of people have bought condos as investments to rent out. To change the laws on them is a difficult decision for me,” said Vice-Mayor Marc Hunt. “There will be a very different market if the ban is lifted.”

“I’m leaning toward prohibiting short-term rentals in all zones,” said Council member Gordon Smith. “Commercially zoned areas are also our future zoned residential areas, given where density is headed. It is not incumbent upon us to cater to tourists. We need to just be who we are. I don’t want Asheville to lose its downtown.”

Cecil Bothwell took a different tack, saying that opening up STRs can be positive for affordable housing, an issue that has become a major sticking point in Asheville, which has a very slim 1 percent rate of available housing.

“I’m not convinced that short-term rentals hollow out affordability,” said Bothwell, who added that he thinks that bed-and-breakfasts establishments or hotels will be impacted most if STR regulations are relaxed or kept the same. “People will use them less, the property will become more affordable and we can build more affordable apartments in the city. There’s a much bigger picture we don’t understand.”

Mayor Esther Manheimer said she’d like to see the status quo maintained, but added, “I have concerns over affordable housing, how many units are occupied by renters versus owners and preserving neighborhoods in Asheville that everyone loves. Short-term rentals have a potential to degrade that,” she said.

Council members submitted their opinions to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which will, most likely, review them on July 16.  City staff will draft a proposal, which will likely come to Council on Aug. 11 for a possible vote.

The ordinance is enforced through a complaint system: The city’s Development Services staff researches  complaints and gives notice to the property owner of violation, if any. Property owners who don’t cease renting are fined $100 per day.

In other business, they took these actions, according to this report from the city clerk:

Present: Mayor Esther E. Manheimer, Presiding; Vice-Mayor Marc H. Hunt; Councilman Cecil Bothwell; Councilman Jan B. Davis; Councilman Christopher A. Pelly; Councilman Gordon D. Smith; Councilwoman Gwen C. Wisler; City Manager Gary Jackson; City Attorney Robin T. Currin; and City Clerk Magdalen Burleson Absent: None

ITEM AND SUMMARY ACTION

Resolution authorizing the Mayor to execute a contract with Cherry Bekaert & Holland for auditing services for Fiscal Year 2014-15. — Adopted Unanimously

Motion to approve the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law for the conditional use permit for Florence Street Apartments located at 128 and 9999 Florence Street. — Adopted Unanimously

Budget amendment, in the amount of $30,000, from debt proceeds to provide adequate funding for the projected expenses for the South Lexington Utility Relocation Project. — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution authorizing the City Manager enter into a contract with Motorola Solutions for a replacement of the public safety radio system and supporting systems. Adopted Unanimously Resolution authorizing acceptance of the Asheville-Buncombe Continuum of Care Homeless Management Information System Grant. — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution setting a public hearing on May 26, 2015, to consider a land use incentive grant agreement for 300 Mill River Drive (Mill River Lofts LLC). — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution setting a public hearing on May 26, 2015, to consider a land use incentive grant agreement for 146 Roberts Street (RAD Lofts). — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter a contract with Patton Construction Group, Inc. for the Westover Drive Storm Drainage Improvements Project. — Adopted Unanimously

Budget amendment, in the amount of $250,289, from the Stormwater Operating Fund, to fund the Westover Drive Storm Drainage Improvements Project. — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution re-affirming the authorization of the execution of a license agreement for an encroachment in North Fork Watershed. — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution authorizing the City Manager to implement a fare-free day to promote transit during the Strive Not To Drive Week in Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016. — Adopted Unanimously

Resolution authorizing the Purchasing Manager to dispose of surplus city-owned personal property, (John Deere 450J bulldozer), valued at $30,000 or more. — Adopted Unanimously

Budget amendment in the General Fund in the amount of $3,407,477 to budget proceeds received from the sale of the Ferry Road property and the subsequent payment of the City’s proceeds to Buncombe County. — Adopted Unanimously

Legislative Update Heard Update Public hearing to consider a conditional zoning for Greymont Village Apartments, located on Sardis Road, from Industrial District and Commercial Industrial District to RM-16 Residential Multi-Family High Density District/ Conditional Zoning for the construction of a multi-family apartment development, with conditions regarding access and lot frontage. — Adopted 4-3 with Cecil Bothwell,  Gordon Smith and Chris Pelly voting “no”

Public hearing to consider an economic development incentive grant for PolyLINKS.—  Adopted Unanimously

Public hearing to consider an economic development incentive grant for Hi-Wire Brewing. — Adopted Unanimously

Public hearing to consider a conditional zoning for property located at 53 Logan Circle from RM-8 Residential Multi-Family Medium Density District to RM-16/CZ Residential Multi-Family High Density District/Conditional Zoning for the construction of 16 townhome units, with conditions regarding setbacks, sidewalks and infrastructure improvements. — Withdrawn to be rescheduled.

Withdrawn Public hearing to consider an amendment to a previously approved conditional zoning from Urban Place District/Conditional Zoning to Urban Place District/Conditional Zoning to amend Motion to Continue to a previously approved mixed-use development project located at 146 Roberts Street. May 26, 2015. Request to continue to May 26, 2015. — Adopted Unanimously

Policy guidance regarding short term rentals and homestays. Direction Given Resolution authorizing the standardization purchase of the Taser Axon Flex (Body Wear Cameras) through Fiscal Year 2019 for consistency in operation and functionality. — Withdrawn

Boards & Commissions: (Council to determine who, if any, to interview): — Civil Service Board interviews to be scheduled

 

 

 

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About Pat Barcas
Pat is a photojournalist and writer who moved to Asheville in 2014. He previously worked for a labor and social rights advocacy newspaper in Chicago. Email him at pbarcas@gmail.com. Follow me @pbarcas

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2 thoughts on “Council divided but leaning tough on short-term rentals

  1. jonathan wainscott

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgTxuMZHXnI

    If City Council votes to be more restrictive towards property owners, I will host wet t-shirt contests with strippers in Esther Manheimmer masks dancing in my yard with the New Belgium Brewery in the background because you can’t take that away from me.

  2. jonathan wainscott

    I am currently housing two homeless veterans through the Homeward Bound agency and program. During my own time of residential limbo, this program has helped me stabilize a precarious financial situation while providing housing for the homeless who have served our country. Today I cashed a very prompt rent check that was in my mailbox on this first day of the month. My new roommates are incredible and it has been a pleasure to provide them with more than a house, rather, a real home. Each room I rent (now 2) generates up to $700 a month ( I am charging $650) with a 3 month lease and option to extend to 5 months. The money is provided by the Federal government and the checking account is held at our own Asheville Savings Bank so cashing the check is instant. Of course there would be more flexibility for both tenants and landlords if the city and county would relax rather than restrict the ordinances concerning short-term rentals. Hopefully our town leaders will see the benefits to the citizens and those who have protected our freedom.

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