Some Albemarle residents are pushing back on the county’s new homestay regulations.
The Board of Supervisors in August voted to change the county’s regulations for short-term rentals, also known as homestays, which now divide the county into three categories by zoning districts and size: residential district properties, rural area-zoned properties up to 5 acres and rural area-zoned properties larger than 5 acres.
A group of residents in Crozet has come out against some of the changes, saying they’re too restrictive and are unfair to the average resident. The group, REACH, or Residents Endorsing Albemarle County Homestays, includes about 30 to 40 people in Crozet who are currently operating homestays, said Shawn Bird, and has started an online petition to try to get the board to loosen the regulations.
Bird and his family have operated a homestay out of their house and a garage apartment, and are in the process of applying for a special exception to use more than the two rooms they are currently allowed for homestays on their residential district-zoned property.
“We have families renting our house, we have couples down for a romantic weekend from Washington, D.C., renting our carriage house and they all love the ability to walk downtown or ride their bikes downtown and enjoy all the great stuff that downtown Crozet has,” he said. “These are not people who want to stay in hotels — they want to bring their dog, they want a kitchen, they want a family place.”
There are no hotels in western Albemarle, though one is planned as part of the redevelopment of the former Barnes Lumber site.
Albemarle has approved 110 homestay permit applications since 2004, according to county principal planner Rebecca Ragsdale, but so far none has been approved under the new regulations. The county has had an ordinance for short-term rentals since the late 1970s.
Homestay operators must renew their homestay annually on the county’s short-term rental registry, pay a $27 fee and have a fire safety inspection at a cost of $50.
They also must get a business license and pay annual business tangible personal property taxes and monthly transient occupancy taxes.
Bird said he’s OK with the safety requirements and paying the local taxes, but isn’t in favor of the county’s room limits. He said the new regulations discourage homestays.
“They’re really looking down upon it like something that is nefarious and troublesome, and even the data on complaints doesn’t even hold up that it’s been that much of an issue for neighbors,” he said.
Since 2012, Albemarle has received 46 complaints from residents related to homestays, and has notified the owners of approximately 98 homes — found through third-party software — about how they can come into compliance with the county’s regulations.
County Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda said that in terms of the zoning portion of the homestay regulation process, county staffers are notifying people in “chunks” to manage staff time.
“As far as fines, our goal is compliance, not penalties, so we would rather have folks come into compliance than pay any any kind of penalty or any fine,” he said.
Other departments and divisions that are involved in homestay regulations — finance, fire rescue, building inspections — have other requirements and ordinances they enforce.
The county has mailed letters to residents who were identified through the third-party software to notify them about county regulations and to invite them to workshops that were held in November. The county will be holding another homestay workshop at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Field School of Charlottesville in Crozet.
Svoboda said county staff will be presenting a homestay report to the Board of Supervisors in the spring, including the number of permits and violations. They also will share the feedback they’ve received with the board.
“We don’t really have specific tracking categories of, ‘I don’t like regulation x or I don’t like regulation y that goes with homestays,’” he said. “It’s more general conversations about whether or not it should be regulated and what is a little more difficult for folks to meet as far as the current [regulations] and what is more easily complied with.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the board needs to clarify the waiver process and look at whether changes need to be made based on public feedback.
“I am encouraging people to contact staff, and they’re amassing information and what they’re learning,” she said. “I think we’re making progress. It is not perfect, but it’s also better than not having any process at all.”