In response to the June 17 Xpress article “Leveling the Playing Field,” if you had been part of the Short Term Rental Advocacy Asheville group, you would know the rhetoric in the newspapers is a campaign. Since December 2013, local short-term rental advocates and hosts have been working with the city concerning the “sharing economy” and ensuring that all city residents benefit from the economic wealth brought by tourism and travel.
STRAA shared “best practices.” It encouraged people to check local laws, screen guests, set ground rules, rent for the “right” price, promote property properly, have a 24/7 owner/contact in the event of problems, have property insurance and pay their taxes. We hired a land-use attorney to work with city staff, including Judy Daniels (retired), Allen Gines, Shannon Tuch, Cathy Ball and the Asheville City Council.
Last summer, the city hired and paid a consultant to write a report about the impact of short-term rentals in North Carolina. After multiple drafts, the final report was vague and inconclusive. Now there is no mention of this report. We attended Planning and Economic Development and City Council Planning and Zoning Commission [meetings] for two years. In January 2015 the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a meeting at Diana Wortham. Ms. Minges, hotel and restaurant industry representative, talked for 30 minutes, followed by a panel discussion of locals speaking five minutes each (the bed-and-breakfast group, Realtors, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, local and quasi-government representatives). The public was given three minutes.
The second public forum in March was sponsored by City Council. Many spoke in support of loosening the current restrictions in the city. STRs are allowed in the county and Central Business District. Couldn’t similar smart and transparent regulatory policies that benefit the entire travel ecosystem be developed around the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of housing? In each meeting, there seemed some movement toward consideration of establishing basic components to regulate short-term rentals while protecting the common good.
The information is not consistent coming from the city. Our initial impression was there was room for negotiation. Now there is no acknowledgement that there has been a two-year conversation and interaction with Council, that the city hired a consultant, that staff worked with a land-use attorney representing short-term rental advocates.
This is the situation Asheville finds itself in: The city, state and county are raising all the taxes to have the tourists share tax burdens, most of which is going to go outside the Asheville city limits. Enforcement continues to be neighbors reporting neighbors. The city has created a climate of fear and mistrust among neighbors. The fines of $100 per day have been levied, and people have been put out of business, losing a vital level of income in some cases that allowed them to stay in their houses, improve the housing stock and make ends meet in Asheville. The fines are going to increase to $500 if P&Z’s recommendation is heeded by Council. This is overzealous and out of control.
I am wondering what is really going on. The city does not have a clear and transparent agenda. Fear is not a professional or politically adept way of organizing a “sustainable” city for tourists or locals.
— Asheville resident
Editor’s note: Although Mountain Xpress ordinarily does not withhold the names of letter writers, in this case we made an exception because we determined that the writer’s concerns about possible loss of income were valid.