JCC Planning Commission shifts stance on Airbnb rentals

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The James City County Planning Commission is recommending that a special-use permit be granted to allow the continued renting of rooms in a home in the James Terrace neighborhood through Airbnb, an online limited residential lodging service.

The decision is a notable shift from the commission’s response last month to a similar application, for which it did not recommend approval.

In a 4-3 vote Wednesday night, the commission recommended that the County Board of Supervisors approve the special-use permit. But the commission further suggested that, if the permit is granted, it include a sunset clause requiring that the home’s owners apply for a new permit within a two-year period.

After hearing comments from several county residents, including one of the James Terrace applicants, Commission Chairman Tim O’Connor (at-large) cast Wednesday’s deciding vote on the issue.

Applicant Shelby Dillon speaks to her special use permit application during the JCC Planning Commission meeting June 2, 2016 (Image courtesy of James City County)
Applicant Shelby Dillon speaks about her special-use permit application during Thursday’s JCC Planning Commission meeting. (Image courtesy of James City County)

O’Connor also cast the deciding vote last month when the commission recommend denying approval of a similar application for a home in the Lakewood neighborhood.

O’Connor said the sunset provision included in Wednesday’s recommendation would allow the applicants to continue renting out rooms for up to two years while the planning commission and the state legislature determine the best way to respond to the growing limited residential lodging industry.

A state work group is studying legislation that could limit a community’s ability to regulate homeowners who rent out rooms to tourists. The work group must issue any recommendations on the matter by Dec. 1.

“I’m generally not supportive, but if we were to put a sunset clause on this (then) I could support it,” O’Connor said.

Joining O’Connor in Wednesday’s vote were commissioners Chris Basic (Berkeley), Heath Richardson (Stonehouse) and Rich Krapf (Powhatan).

The dissenting votes were cast by commissioners Danny Schmidt (Roberts), Robin Bledsoe (Jamestown) and Vice Chairman John Wright, III (at-large).

Bledsoe argued that the permit application should have been deferred so the commission could “do this the right way.”

“Not everybody wants room rentals in their neighborhood, but I have absolutely no doubt among this group (that) we can come up with a policy, not an enforcement, that makes it easy for people to do this,” Bledsoe said.

Currently, there are 271 properties with rooms available for rent listed on Airbnb.com in the Greater Williamsburg area. Some are for licensed bed and breakfasts, while others are homeowners.

Richardson asked if the commission’s Policy Committee could explore ways the county can respond to future special-use permit applications for Airbnb businesses. Bledsoe supported that idea, saying the commission should investigate how other communities are dealing with the issue.

The last time the county applied a sunset clause to a special-use permit was in 2013. Then the Board of Supervisors asked the owner of a James Terrace in-home daycare to apply for another permit within 12 months.

The daycare owner, Tracey Williams of Creative Kids Child Development Center, reapplied in 2014 and her application was approved.

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