In a last-minute plea, the Beaufort County Association of Realtors has implored Beaufort City Council to reject a new policy that would allow rentals of 30 days or less in all but one of the city's residential neighborhoods.
The group recently sent council members a letter saying short-term rentals in residential areas could drive down property values and hurt the character of neighborhoods and residents' quality of life.
"Imagine not knowing your neighbors because they rotate 52 times a year," the letter said. "Even the possibility of creating small motels throughout Beaufort's residential neighborhoods will inject a high degree of uncertainty into our market."
Bryan Gates, president of the association's board, said the group has known about the proposed change for a while but "didn't think it was anything that would grow legs" until council approved it on first reading earlier this month.
"When it went through the first reading without a hitch, that's when the alarms went off," Gates said.
A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for today's council meeting.
Mayor Billy Keyserling wondered why the Realtors didn't come to city officials sooner, but said council will listen to their concerns.
"I just wish they had not come to us at the last minute," said Keyserling, a member of the association. He added that he wasn't consulted about the association's letter before it was sent. "We've been discussing this for over a year now. Where have they been?"
The proposed ordinance would allow the primary house on a property to be rented out 30 days or less with approval from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals, which would consider applications on a case-by-case basis. The ordinance also would allow short-term rentals in secondary dwelling units -- such as a carriage house or garage apartment -- if the owner lives on the premises, but those would not require a special exception and could be approved by city staff.
Each owner of a short-term rental would have to meet certain standards outlined in the ordinance, such as requiring a minimum two-night stay, providing adequate on-site parking and developing a property-management plan.
The ordinance does not apply to planned communities where neighborhood covenants prohibit short-term rentals, or in The Point neighborhood in downtown.
"If this is such a good idea, why are any neighborhoods in the city excluded?" the Realtors association asked in its letter.
Follow reporter Juliann Vachon at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.