Airbnb is becoming a more popular form of lodging for travelers but in Williamsburg, city zoning requirements don’t allow residents to participate in short-term rental services like Airbnb.
But that might soon change.
“Every community handles zoning differently,” said Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokeswoman for Airbnb. “(In) every single community all over the world, the reality is that it’s up to the city to determine where short term rentals fit.”
Airbnb is an online lodging platform that allows members to rent out their homes and apartments for certain periods of time.
In the past, the city did not allow for individuals to use their private residences or apartments as Airbnb rentals, said Carolyn Murphy, planning director for the city.
But during a Thursday City Council meeting, members acknowledged the use of short-term rentals, like Airbnb, as a fast-growing tourism tool nationally and in Williamsburg.
In 2018, Airbnbs in Williamsburg hosted a total of 23,700 guests, accumulating an overall income of $2.6 million, according to data from Airbnb.
There are 200 active hosts within Williamsburg. Currently these hosts are limited to hotels, motels, timeshares and bed and breakfast establishments, Murphy said. But data showed that on average, the hosts made approximately $8,100 last year from sharing their home about one to two nights a month.
And now Williamsburg residents are looking to get in on the action.
“I’m watching Colonial Williamsburg die,” said Williamsburg resident Carol Bender during the meeting’s open forum.
Bender said allowing short-term rentals would help promote tourism because the rentals would bring a different level of affordability to the market. But the question now for the City Council is just how strict should regulations be on short-term rentals?
The City Council is considering two proposed ordinances to allow for short-term rentals.
But there is a key difference to each: location.
Both options for the short-term rental ordinance change suggests that to rent out a location, the property must be an owner-occupied single-family detached home, but can only rent one bedroom. The ordinances limit the amount of visitors to two guests to one room, excluding minor children.
What is significantly different about the first proposal from the second is that in the first, the rentals would only be located on five main streets in the city:
- Capitol Landing Road from Lafayette Street to Queens Creek
- Henry Street between Lafayette Street and Mimosa Drive
- Jamestown Road
- Lafayette Street
- Page Street
- Richmond Road between Brooks Street and Virginia Avenue
The second option proposes that short-term rentals would be allowed in all single-family neighborhoods.
By regulating the rentals to certain locations, members and residents suggested this might help create a soft introduction of short-term rentals to the city. But on the other hand, it prevents residents outside of these designated areas from earning any profit from short-term rentals.
But, under both of the ordinances, it was agreed by council members that if a residence falls under a homeowners association then the resident must first get approval from the association.
In addition, council members agreed that entire houses should not be available for short-term rentals because it implies that the owner would not be present and therefore might not be able to enforce any rules and regulations on their guests.
After a two-hour discussion, members of the City Council agreed to table the ordinance vote until the next meeting on Feb. 14 at 4 p.m.