Nearly two hundred meet to talk event homes in Sandbridge while city works toward rules

Nearly 200 people attended the Monday, Sept. 21, meeting of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League, which included a discussion of event homes in the community. [The Princess Anne Independent News]
Nearly 200 people attended the Monday, Sept. 21, meeting of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League, which included a discussion of event homes in the community. [The Princess Anne Independent News]

SANDBRIDGE — City officials are still investigating approaches to dealing with event homes, mansions that have become an annoyance to some neighbors due to parties and special events that bring a large number of people and associated challenges such as noise and parking.

The officials researching the matter presented some ideas and possible difficulties in dealing with the issue during a meeting of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League at Sandbridge Community Chapel United Methodist Church. Nearly 200 people attended the meetings, with some sitting in the sanctuary’s balcony and others filling chairs set up in a hallway.

City Zoning Administrator Karen Lasley led a presentation on research the city has done to date. Though formal consideration does not seem imminent, the Beach is looking at past action in Cape May, N.J. [Previous reporting by The Independent News on this issue can be read by clicking on this link.]

Last year, the city council in that community unanimously passed an ordinance defining the homes as “one owned, maintained and/or advertised as a destination for gatherings of guests who are not living in the building,” according to The Cape May County Herald.

There, the use of the houses for events is prohibited between July 1 and Labor Day, and the ordinance “effectively bars event houses from residential areas,” the newspaper reported. Virginia Beach city officials did not indicate they were considering steps quite that drastic, but officials discussed putting some sort of policy in place with city council direction.

If that happened, Lasley said, there would be enforcement tools, too. 

In Sandbridge, the head of a civic league committee on the matter has estimated there are more than 50 such homes. There is division among some on the matter, and some property owner are concerned. “I know that this has caused a lot of conflict, and I hope that we can work together to find a workable solution,” Lasley said.

Lasley said the Beach, traditionally, has had longterm rentals of houses around the city while shorter term rentals are common near the beach and water. Officials have tried to enforce a standard of no more than three event home events per year as the issue has grown, but Lasley has noted that this is not backed up by code.

“Enforcement is extremely, extremely difficult,” Lasley said during the meeting.

“Who keeps track of the events being held?” resident Susan Sadowksi asked.

“Right now,” Lasley replied, “all we do is go by neighbor complaints.”

The city seems to be steering clear of the wider issue of short-term rentals in Sandbridge as a whole. Both locals and other investors rent property to tourists. 

The distinction here is the city’s focus on mansions holding events and concerns that these essentially are businesses operating within a residential community. Most of the community is zoned for single-family houses.

Lasley also presented information from law enforcement, which noted that “95 percent” of the gatherings are family-friendly, and that parties happen at both residences and rental locations. 

And she said city lawyers also are researching this, with the hope of giving members of the council some options.

A number of members of the community spoke, asked questions or listened, with some concerned about their own property rights and others concerned about the impact of big properties in a community in which parking can be a challenge.

Pedro Becerra was among the property owners concerned that future city action might effect other people with homes that they rent out.

“Several of us live here and we are property owners,” he said said in an interview, adding that Sandbridge mostly has parking problems with people using the beach.

Those who live near the big houses may see it differently, however. Alex Echols, who lives here part of the year, has a home between two of the event houses. 

“It’s their house,” he said in an interview. “We want them to use it, but we don’t want it to impede the use of our house. The worst problem is usually the noise, when they wake me at 2 a.m., but, when they block me in my driveway, that’s a safety problem.”

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