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Crozet family receives first homestay exception

A Crozet family now will be able to rent additional rooms on their property as a homestay.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved a special exception that will allow Atieno and Shawn Bird to rent out four rooms in their house and a garage apartment on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb.

This was the first special exception request submitted under the county’s new homestay regulations, which were approved in August.

“[We’re] relieved,” Shawn Bird said after the vote. “We’re just happy to get this behind us and get back to welcoming people to our home.”

County principal planner Rebecca Ragsdale said there are seven additional special exception requests pending.

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 Birds’ property is zoned R-2 residential, which limits them to renting two rooms in their house, according to the new zoning ordinance. Rural-area properties that are fewer than 5 acres also are limited to two rooms, while owners of larger rural properties can rent out five rooms, as well as do a limited number of whole-house rentals.

The Birds’ special exception request was to rent out up to four guestrooms within their existing house and have the option to rent out one guestroom in their garage apartment behind the house.

When they rent out their house, the Birds would stay in the garage apartment; if the garage apartment is rented out, they would stay in their house. The special exception included a requirement that no more than four guestrooms may be rented for homestay use.

Ragsdale said the county heard no complaints from abutting property owners.

Staff said it was their opinion that the Birds’ Airbnb would not hurt neighboring lots or cause harm to public health, safety or welfare — the two factors county code says should be considered.

The Birds are part of the Residents Endorsing Albemarle County Homestays group, which includes homeowners in Crozet who want the Board of Supervisors to loosen county homestay regulations. They said that despite their special exception approval, they will continue to put pressure on the board to change the regulations.

Atieno Bird said the regulations are unfair to those who cannot afford both the time and money — as she and her husband have been able to — to file a special exception request, which costs $457.

“Is Albemarle for rich people? Is that what they’re saying?” she said.

“We feel very lucky, we are very grateful,” she said. “But we also want to live in a vibrant county and we also want our neighbors who are less fortunate to be able to use the resources that they have to make ends meet, to send their kids to summer camp, to fix up their homes.”

Shawn Bird said they support the regulations around business licensing, taxes and safety requirements, but that the limits on the number of rooms in the residential areas and smaller rural lots is unfair.

“Make these businesses thrive instead of crippling them,” he said. “Pass regulations that encourage these home businesses to be successful.”

County staff members previously have said that they 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.


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