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Short term rental supporters strike back

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Taking place during the board’s monthly meeting, an estimated 50+ people were on hand for the proceedings. Officially listed as a discussion, the board took public comment about this issue.

Last month, the Tribune reported that 15-20 residents came to voice their opposition to short term rentals within the town, which resulted in the town board of aldermen sending a proposal to eliminate rental of homes for less than 30 days in residential neighborhoods to the Planning and Zoning Board for review.

“That issue has been brought forth after numerous complaints. It went to the Planning and Zoning Board and what you have before you this evening,” Young said, “the proposal that the P and Z sent back to you is based on clarifying the existing ordinance.” Young detailed the proposal which would add a paragraph to the ordinance, “which states, any property owned or building offered for rent or lease for a period less than 30 days shall be considered a hotel or a motel under the ordinances…Such properties or buildings will have to meet all of the conditions and restrictions necessary under the code of ordinance applied to hotels and motels,” furthermore, anyone who did not adhere to the restrictions or conditions would be in violation and subject to a penalty.

The public comment began, with resident John Altry, who owns the Log Cabin Motor Court and the Bavarian Lodge. some long term rental properties and two short term rentals. “Oddly enough, if anyone is going to make money out of this deal, if you eliminate short term rentals, it will be me and my wife. Being one of the few hotels in the area, if you eliminate the competition, they’ll probably go stay somewhere else.” However, “I’m here to talk about the founding principals that our country was built upon; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Government is meant to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “That’s what I’m most passionate about; property rights, both for and against this issue. Is it appropriate for a home owner to make loud noises and disturb the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their neighbors. I think most of you would say no.”

He continued, asking if it was responsible for property owners to rent out their home to irresponsible renters. But, “is it appropriate for a disabled person who is unable to work at their normal profession, but is able to find life in short term rentals, economical and social interactions with customers, to be denied that right? Is it appropriate for an elderly couple, who find it impossible to live only on social security, they have to rent out rooms in their house to pay their property tax.”

As the public comment segment continued, various short term rental proprietors shared that they screen potential customers, in an effort to prevent any problems with neighbors. Others noted that they were either retired, disabled or in need of supplemental income.

Woodfin resident Joan Walker, who also sits on the Buncombe County Planning and Zoning Board, addressed the board, saying, “I feel the proposed ordinance effectively banning short term rentals is overly restrictive and does not best serve the interests of the community as a whole. We can and should, instead, address concerns with short term rentals and the increasing of services,” she said, “by taking examples from other communities for a balanced approach that protects against nuisances to neighbors, undue burdens on our infrastructure and other negative impacts to neighborhoods.” She suggested that the proposal go back to the planning and zoning board, and address requirements such as full time residents at short term rental properties, limiting days a room can be rented out, occupancy limits, among others.

The row over the short term rental issue began when the town received complaints of parties at 45 Audubon Drive, which was being used as a short term rental at the time. According to the Buncombe County GIS system, the property is owned by Ryan and Tanya Mayces of League City, TX and Jason and Stephanie Graves. Representing the owners, Jason Graves began his comment with an apology, “This is not something that we wanted. The events that happened in our house are not something that we approved or wanted. They were things we tried to screen to prevent, but it turns out that there are people in this country who outright lie to you. That’s what we were dealing with. It was not due to lack of effort, it was not because we were irresponsible.”

Graves continued, saying, “Our goal was to have zero impact on this community…To correct the misconception that this is a party house, this is not remotely true. We have had two incidents in a year and a half. If neighbors are aware of more, I ask that you please call me and talk to me and we’ll address this as well. Graves stated that he believes the best method for dealing with the issue is for it to be handled “person to person” rather than with the town’s involvement. “From the time this began, I did not get a single phone call from anyone that was bringing this issue before the board,” he said, adding, “if we can’t [resolve the issue] I will gladly sell the property. That’s how serious I am to making that commitment to you.”

However, not all the residents present were in support of allowing short term rentals to remain in residential neighborhoods. “I want to call the board’s attention to the point of the proposed ordinance,” said Peter McGuire, whose property borders Graves’. “Operating a short term rental in a residential neighborhood, in a R-21 neighborhood is already against the law. What this proposal does is clarifies what that law is and what actually is a short term rental. As it stands now, a short term rental has a very ambitious definition but it is a commercial activity. When you operate a short term rental put your house on AirBnB or BRBO,” he said, noting that several previous speakers had noted that those services collected occupancy tax during transactions, “if you’re paying that tax, you’re operating a commercial enterprise out of your home. That’s the truth. That’s no different than if I put a Days Inn at my house or an auto body shop at my house. If I pay that tax, I’m operating a commercial activity in an R-21 zone.”

Woodfin Mayor Jerry VeHaun suggested that, “One thing I was thinking of sitting here and I’d be willing to do it if we had equal representation is putting together a task force. I’d be willing to meet as many times as it takes to try and see if we can come to some compromise.”

Woodfin Alderman Don Hensley and Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Giezentanner both agreed that taking no action on the issue was the best course of action. While the board of aldermen did not take any action on the issue directly, they did vote to form a task force of residents to explore the issue and come to an agreement.

Those interested in serving on the task force are asked to contact the Town of Woodfin at 828.253.4887 as soon as possible.

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