After a year of debate and deliberation, Beaufort City Council took a first step Tuesday toward allowing short-term rentals in the city's residential areas.
City Council unanimously approved the first reading of a proposed ordinance allowing such rentals -- those of less than 30 days -- of primary dwelling units in nearly all residential districts by special exception. That process requires approval from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals, and is determined on a case-by-case basis.
It also would allow short-term rentals in accessory dwelling units where the owner lives on the premises but those would not require a special exception and could be approved by city staff.
Each short-term rental owner 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, among other things.
The proposed ordinance does not apply to planned communities where neighborhood covenants prohibit short-term rentals, or in The Point neighborhood.
"We've been discussing this issue for over a year ... and over and over we heard from the Point's neighborhood association and its residents that they did not want short-term rentals in their neighborhood," said Libby Anderson, Beaufort planning director.
Some residents in attendance Tuesday took exception to the city excluding the downtown neighborhood.
"If it's good for one section of the city, it's good for all of the city," said former state representative and Beaufort resident Edie Rogers. "I don't think this is good for any of us."
Council members were largely unsympathetic to those complaints, citing the volume of tourist traffic in the Point neighborhood as one of the reasons to exempt it from the proposed ordinance.
"I don't like excluding one neighborhood ... but this is a neighborhood that ... benefits us all greatly," Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said. "I wouldn't have the patience to live on the carriage routes. I'm terribly sorry if this comes as a surprise to some of the people here after a year of discussion."
If approved, the new proposal would close a debate that started last summer, when a couple sought to turn their house in the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood into a short-term rental but were sidelined when they discovered that the property's residential zoning didn't allow it.
To become law, the ordinance must pass a second reading.