COURTHOUSE — The city staff has drafted rules that may lead to regulation of so-called event homes, mansions marketed as destinations for large gatherings, such as weddings and retreats, that have become a sore spot among some in this parking-poor residential community.
The issue has roots in the decades-old rental culture of the scenic community along the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the extension of city services, housing booms and economic downturn, according to notes on the matter written by the city staff.
Essentially, some event homes initially may have been intended as residences, but converted to rentals due to market pressures. However, others appear to have been built for the purpose of being destinations for gatherings.
Now there are about 50 of them, according to the Sandbridge Beach Business Association, which included the numbers in a letter this summer. Overall, 620 of the 1,386 single-family parcels in Sandbridge are in the overall rental pool.
Karen Lasley, the city zoning administrator, and Bill Macali, a deputy city attorney who specializes in land use issues, presented the language to the city council on Tuesday, Nov. 17. No action was taken on the matter, with the staff stressing that they will seek consensus on regulation with residents, owners and other interested parties before returning to the council for possible action.
“This has been an issue that’s been brewing for a while,” City Manager Jim Spore said before the presentation.
Lasley said the sorts of uses discussed generally take place along the ocean or bay, though the issue with event homes mainly involves Sandbridge, where short-term rental homes have evolved into “a different animal.”
Macali said there is no easy answer to the issue.
“We’re using it as a template to try and build consensus,” Macali said, speaking of the draft and noting that the issue has led to some “emotional discussion” in Sandbridge. He said he hoped future discussions would be calm and constructive.
He noted a solution to the issue will need to address requirements for providing ample parking, perhaps with shuttles to the events themselves.
“Parking will not be met by parking on the street,” he said. “That’s a given.”
The evolution of very large homes over time reached a tipping point in recent years, leading to an informal city zoning policy to limit the number of events at the homes to three per house, per year.
The Sandbridge Beach Civic League in June appealed to the city council for help solve a problem of “houses being rented for events, which are not compatible with a residential community,” according to a letter by Joan Davis, head of the civic league, written at the time.
A change to zoning code would regulate rentals of houses for weddings, receptions, retreats and other large events, according to the draft. It would not regulate normal family gatherings or parties.
The draft states that such short-term rentals are a commercial use and seeks to balance such activities with the concerns of neighbors.
The limit of three per year remained within the draft, and events in the homes would be prohibited between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m.
Event functions are defined in the draft as events at which attendance exceeds 75 people, and the event homes are defined as those “used, designed, maintained, advertised or held out as destinations for gatherings” and “rented at the time of the event for a period of less that seven consecutive days.”
The draft would require a permit for such events, with potential punishment for violations of the resulting code ranging from $10 to $1,000. A permit fee of $200 would be required, as well, and applications would be due 30 days before the event took place. Applicants for the events would have to notify neighbors.
City Councilmember Rosemary Wilson noted that these houses are operating now in Sandbridge and restriction may affect their viability.
“I think that something we all need to keep in mind is we have allowed these houses to be built,” Wilson said. “People have invested a large amount of money.”
“We have been talking about this for some time in the Sandbridge area,” said City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, which includes Sandbridge.
“Sandbridge is different from other oceanfront areas,” Henley added during the meeting. “This short term rental of houses for a family vacations has been part of Sandbridge since the beginning, but Sandbridge is residentially zoned …
She added that, if people built their event homes as part of a business plan rather than a residence, then “they misrepresented what they were building.”