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Albemarle puts the brakes on changes to homestay regulations

Homestay regulations in Albemarle County likely will not change for at least a year.

At the county Board of Supervisors meeting this week, the board decided not to pursue any zoning ordinance changes that were proposed by staff.

The county’s ordinance for homestays — short-term rentals of fewer than 30 days — was updated after a two-plus-year process in August.

County staff had offered possible amendments to the regulations based on special exception requests that the county has received so far and community feedback, including reducing the required setbacks; allowing a special exception request to owner-occupancy for all homestays; and allowing homestays on adjoining properties with the same owner to do whole-house rentals.

The regulations divide the county into three categories by zoning districts and size: residential district properties, rural area-zoned properties smaller than 5 acres and rural area-zoned properties 5 acres or larger.

When supervisors passed the new regulations, they also approved four topics where special exceptions can be granted: to allow more than two guestrooms; the use of an accessory structure if not otherwise allowed; the use of a resident manager; and a reduction in required setbacks. The use of a resident manager is currently not a special exception that larger rural property owners can request.

Most supervisors did not support making any changes right now.

“I am very concerned during a pandemic on opening up our community to more people coming in and reducing the restrictions,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said. “I am happy to sit back and bide my time for another year and take a look at this. I think a year buys us time on health aspects and the ability to make sure that our community is safe.”

Since the regulation changes, the county has had 17 special exception applications, with 21 requests to waive or modify ordinance requirements. The board has approved 13 requests and denied one.

The requests have come as action items before the board, and county Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda said some future requests were going to be moved to the consent agenda.

“If we have neighbor concerns, then that would make it an action item,” Svoboda said. “ If the neighbor concerns are limited, or we don’t have any, then it would be a consent agenda approval with no board discussion unless the board pulls the item.”

Board Chairman Ned Gallaway requested that staff also check with the supervisor of the district before moving the request to the consent agenda.

In terms of compliance, Albemarle has used a third-party service to help find county addresses offering homestay listings. About 295 letters seeking voluntary tax compliance have been sent out to homestay operators so far, and as of mid-May, about 61% had responded. Almost $100,000 has been collected from business license fees and business tangible personal property and transient occupancy taxes from homestay businesses, according to a staff report.

“The continued use of the third-party helper is critical in this program, because we will not have the staff resources to ferret these things out on our own,” Svoboda said.

If funding is available, Svoboda said, the county plans to renew the contract with the third-party service in July, and county staff plans to update the board annually.


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