COURTHOUSE –The city is looking into ways to better control the use of rental mansions that have become popular destinations for events such as weddings, reunions and business functions, but have also led to complaints that they essentially are businesses operating, sometimes disruptively, within the residential community here.
Such concerns are hardly foreign within Sandbridge, where locals are well versed in dealing with tourists, creative parking, and exuberant parties, some thrown by renters, and these issues are not always limited to the summer months, either.
At issue here, in part, is scale – rentals billed as “event” homes that, as sites marketing them note, “sleep” 30 or 40 people amid a residential community. Some can handle gatherings for as many as 100 people in an area where a number of streets don’t have on-street parking.
City officials are reviewing how to address the issue. The Sandbridge Beach Civic League asked for help from the city staff and the City Council.
However, the issue has been brewing for a while – it’s been influenced by both the building boom in the 2000s and the slowing of the housing market in 2008, according to information provided by the city.
Officials said it is unlikely anything will be brought forward during this year’s season, due to research, discussion and, should a zoning change be in order, the process of passing such a thing.
A policy of three events per year, per house, has been put into practice by the city, using the number to mark the point at which a residential use becomes an “assembly use,” meaning commercial zoning and a conditional use permit are needed, according to Karen Lasley, the city’s zoning administrator. She said it’s difficult to enforce, however.
“It’s gotten to the point where we need to face it directly,” she said recently, noting strong feelings on different sides of the issue. Lasley is reviewing the matter, including looking at how other areas regulate such properties.
The Beach’s zoning ordinance does not discuss short- or long-term rental of what are considered “dwelling units,” according to notes on the matter provided by Lasley.
Generally, long-term rentals happen throughout the city while weekly or nightly rentals have happened “in neighborhoods adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay,” the notes explained.
According to the city, the size and bedroom count of homes grew with the provision of water and sewer to Sandbridge.
The 2000s housing boom spurred bigger and bigger homes along the water, her notes said, and that was followed the crash. In some case, property owners “found themselves in a difficult financial position and began to actively market the large homes for events.”
Parking, noise and trash problems came with them, according a report by Bill Brown of Sandbridge for a committee he chairs about the issue for the Sandbridge Beach Civic League. The houses rented for events, according to Brown, “are not compatible with a residential community.”
Representatives of real estate companies that manage a number of the homes, Sandbridge Realty and Siebert Realty, did not return phone calls from The Independent News. However, they have participated in some discussions about the issue.
Joan Davis, president of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League, in an interview said that people with different perspectives on the issue are engaged in the matter in hopes of resolving concerns.
“I think it’s a controllable issue,” she said.
During a civic league meeting in the spring, Brown reported to the league that representatives from the realty companies went to a meeting that also was attended by concerned homeowners, according to meeting minutes published in the civic league newsletter.
The representatives dicussed ways of dealing with issues, such as calling police when there are after-hours problems. Brown told members of civic league that other rentals besides the event homes being used for parties, and that issues tend to happen in fall, winter and spring due to cheaper rent.
The matter has come up at other recent meetings, including the Princess Anne District Town Hall hosted by Councilmember Barbara Henley in June. Then, Henley said the city is looking into at what point houses marketed to host events become “assembly halls.” She said she has had a number of calls about the homes.
During an interview following that meeting, Brown said the issue has been brewing in recent years. “There’s 53 of them right now,” he said, “and there’s more being built. They’re effectively being built as event houses, party houses. … It’s been something that’s been going on for a few years, and it’s just at a tipping point.”