Planning board defers voting on county’s short-term rental ordinance

PUMP THE BRAKES: The Buncombe County Planning Board voted to defer recommending changes to the county's short-term rental ordinance for 100 days. Photo by Brooke Randle

The tension in A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium was palpable April 22 as members of the Buncombe County Planning Board prepared to conduct their final public meeting and vote on recommended changes to the county’s short-term rental ordinance. 

But before opening the public hearing, board Chair Nancy Waldrop told the room of about 100 people that she felt that the process had moved too quickly. She went on to suggest that the board defer voting on the proposed ordinance changes for 100 days to allow more time for research and public input.

“My reasons for this are many, but the most important ones being: No. 1, we have two new members of the board who are at a disadvantage due to not having heard or had the time to digest any proposals that have been made prior to their arrival,” Waldrop explained. “No. 2, there was a considerable amount of community unease with this proposal, which has unfortunately been fueled by a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding.”

The proposed regulations, which were introduced in December as part of the Buncombe 2043 Comprehensive Plan, would ban new whole-house, short-term rentals in the unincorporated parts of Buncombe County unless they were located within five commercial zones or in the county’s residential open-use zone, among other changes. Existing short-term rentals, known as STRs, would not be affected by the new rules but would require a county permit. 

Waldrop said that much of the board’s proposed changes to the ordinance had widespread support, including banning STRs from mobile home parks and the steep slope and Blue Ridge Parkway overlays, and a grandfathering clause to protect existing STRs. But she added that more work needed to be done to develop other parts of the ordinance.

“Based on what we have heard from the community … I firmly believe that the best path forward will be to broaden the scope of our discussions to include those issues surrounding STRs,” Waldrop said. 

Some of the remaining criticism of the proposal from members of the public included restrictions on where STRs could operate and the number of new STRs property owners could build. Currently, the proposal would only allow residents who live in open-use zoning to operate up to two STRs if the property is more than 2 acres. Others questioned the ability for the county to regulate STRs at all, citing property rights issues and saying that the proposal opened the local government to litigation. 

Several board members expressed agreement with Waldrop’s assessment before voting unanimously to postpone the issue. County Planning Director Nathan Pennington said that county staff needed time to regroup.

“We’ve taken good notes …  there’s a number of other text amendments we need to look at as well,” Pennington said. “We spent a lot of time on this; here we are tonight. Let us bring you a menu of options, because some take a lot more studying, and we’re partway into [some] and we’re having to back out of others. So why don’t we huddle for a while and then bring you all back some options.”

Despite the board’s decision to postpone, the board continued the public hearing in which 31 people spoke. A large majority of speakers expressed relief at the board’s decision to slow down the regulations process and voiced concern over how the proposed regulations could have impacted their businesses, infringe on property rights or create financial hardship. 

“I’m very, very encouraged by the recommendations to pump the brakes on this regulation because I feel like there’s a lot of room to improve,” said Pete Kuehne, who said he owned a vacation rental management company. “I am in favor of regulations that improve the overall quality of life in Buncombe County, and promote safety and promote neighborhoods because we want to see vacation rentals be welcomed in the community. We feel like they’re a vital driver of commerce in the community and a vital payer of taxes in the community.”

Three commenters spoke in favor of stricter STR restrictions and shared how STRs negatively affect neighborhoods and contribute to Asheville’s housing crisis. Speaker Andrea Golden, co-founder of PODER Emma Community Ownership and a resident owner of Dulce Lomita Mobile Home Cooperative, said that while she looks forward to participating in the public input efforts around STRs, she hopes that the regulations aimed at protecting affordable housing will remain part of the board’s proposal.

“There is much more critical work to be done. However, regulating short-term rentals to protect existing affordable housing, such as mobile home parks, multifamily housing, duplexes and community-oriented development is a critical step, and it’s one that we truly hope is not lost,” Golden said.


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