Beaufort News

Beaufort considers short-term rental process as vacation listings rise

Beaufort resident Nigel Stroud walks his dog each morning to visit his new rental property on North Street.

From there, it's another short walk to the waterfront and Bay Street amenities. Stroud believes the home, which he closed on last month, would be a perfect location to operate his first short-term rental.

But his request was denied by the Beaufort Zoning Board of Appeals after neighbors objected to the possible additional noise and activity.

Stroud and his wife were surprised. Another North Street home was approved as a short-term rental during the same meeting.

The neighbors' fears might be attributed to issues associated with long-term renters and not a typical short-term vacation property, Stroud said.

"I've never seen one that is not maintained to a high degree," he said. "That's what generates your income."

Requests like Stroud's could be headed for further scrutiny as the city looks for ways to balance the benefits of more deep-pocketed visitors in the city with possible effects on neighborhoods. The number of short-term rentals is on the rise, and city leaders feel most applications are being approved only because neighbors don't complain.

Short-term rentals are properties rented less than 30 days. The designation has been allowed in residential areas by special exception since 2011 after having previously been limited to commercial areas.

The Zoning Board of Appeals votes on whether to allow those exceptions, based on a set of criteria outlined in the city's ordinance. Twenty-six properties have been granted special exceptions to operate short-term rentals since August 2011.

Those criteria include that the use matches the surrounding area, it fits the city's long-term plans and it doesn't create potential nuisances for residents.

Stroud said he doesn't fault the zoning board or city for his application being denied, but that City Council should look at the ordinance and talk about ways to make the criteria more clear.

As of now, the primary indicator for approval outside of ordinance guidelines seems to be whether neighbors object. That's the standard used by board chairman Brad Hill, he told City Council recently, and what ultimately sunk Stroud's application.

Stroud believes the short rentals are better maintained than long rentals, that they draw well-off tenants who want to visit and spend money in Beaufort.

His application was opposed by longtime North Street residents Gerry and Diane Kenny, who said in a letter to the city's planning department that potential issues include parking spilling into the street, noise and strangers in the neighborhood. Another nearby resident detailed a bad experience with another property on the street that was used as apartments.

The number of short-term rentals in the city has grown with the allowed residential exceptions and the concept popularized by the rise of airbnb.com and vrbo.com.

Robb Wells, vice president for tourism at Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the number of properties listed on VRBO in the city has grown from 41 when he arrived in 2012, to 71 now.

Wells said it's good that the business climate allows for short-term rentals and that there is a demand for rooms in the city.

"Short-term rentals have been able to fill that void," Wells said. "And they provide what some would consider a top-level experience, because (visitors) get ingrained in the fabric of what makes our community so great."

Mayor Billy Keyserling said during a recent workshop that council should look at short-term rentals and how they relate to the health of neighborhoods.

He said applications were on the rise, most being approved and that criteria should be reviewed so that special exceptions remain just that.

"Not that we're for or against, but to remind ourselves it is to be by exception," Keyserling said. "If it is being handled as almost a given right, maybe we ought to look at it not as an entitlement."

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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