Politics & Government

‘Destroying the community:’ Vacation rental rules a thorny issue in Port Royal

Quick security tips for rental home owners in Beaufort County

Palmetto Dunes recently had a string of break-ins in their rental homes. Here are a few quick tips for rental owners across Beaufort County — and a few specific tips for Palmetto Dunes property owners.
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Palmetto Dunes recently had a string of break-ins in their rental homes. Here are a few quick tips for rental owners across Beaufort County — and a few specific tips for Palmetto Dunes property owners.

Debbie Ball and her husband found a way they thought they could make some extra money in retirement.

In planning to eventually settle to Port Royal from Tennessee, the Balls bought a lot in the town’s Old Village area and built a home. They have plans to divide the lot and build another house to rent out on a short-term basis to visitors such as families in town to visit graduating Marines at nearby Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Ball said her story is typical of others she has talked to in similar situations — future retirees who have bought or built homes in the town with plans to make money until they settle in later.

“But I’m afraid this committee is going to be making regulations, and I’m not going to be able to fulfill what my goal was two years ago,” Ball said after a meeting Monday of a town panel considering rules for the rentals. “I haven’t been able to afford to build at all. Now I want to build the second house, and I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re going to stop me from what I was hoping to do from the very beginning.”

The issue of how and whether to regulate vacation rentals is not unique to Port Royal but has emerged as a growing pain as a thriving economy and the purchase and expected redevelopment of the former state port property have spurred investment in the town.

Building permits are up, and some buyers are looking at ways to generate income from their properties by renting them to visitors who opt for the experience of a home over a hotel room.

Sixty-eight licensed short-term rentals operate in Port Royal, town manager Van Willis said during the meeting Monday.

“That’s licensed,” he said. “There are a few out there that aren’t licensed.”

The town convened a task force earlier this year in response to concerns about how the growing number of the vacation rentals will affect the community. The group’s biweekly meetings have at times grown heated, with a member suggesting this month that a police officer attend future meetings to maintain order.

At odds are those who concerned the town will become overrun with rentals they feel generate more noise, trash and a revolving door of visitors and those opposed to restricting ways property owners can use their homes.

The committee was given six months to provide recommendations to the Town Council, though town officials have said the group will have the time it needs to make informed decisions without a hard deadline.

Carl Joye, a real estate broker and owner of Port Royal-based Apex Team Real Estate, asked the committee Monday to expedite a process he said is “destroying the community.” He asked the group to decide whether they will recommend restricting the number of in a defined area and bring it to a Town Council vote.

Joye had circulated a petition this month with signatures of residents he said opposed restricting properties from being used as vacation rentals.

“These prolonged discussions going on for months and months are affecting the buyers’ motivation to buy and the sellers’ ability to sell,” he said. “It’s not a complicated issue; either you want a cap or you don’t want a cap.”

Jonathan Sullivan, who is part of a group that plans to build a new hotel with 80-100 rooms on Ribaut Road, also encouraged the panel to determine the level to cap the rentals and move forward, saying too many rules and procedures would become difficult for the town to manage.

Sullivan said the group should consider including owner-occupied rentals in the cap, and that the visitors to homes with owners on site still generate more cars and trash.

The rental task force will likely discuss the possibilities for capping rentals at its next meeting May 22, chairman Joe DeVito said. DeVito offered as a consideration rules in place for San Antonio, Texas, which restricts the number of rentals to a percentage of structures on each block.

“I think we’re at the point now we’re ready for a draft,” DeVito said.

Stephen Fastenau covers northern Beaufort County as a reporter for The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet, where he has worked since 2010 and been recognized with state and national awards. He studied journalism and political science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and lives in Beaufort.
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