BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
SANDBRIDGE – The beaches and waterways commission, which is reviewing the controversy about so-called event homes, toured Sandbridge on Thursday, May 19, before hearing from residents during a meeting at Sandbridge Community Chapel United Methodist Church.
A second meeting was held a week later in a public works conference room at the government center, and citizens and a representative of a real estate company spoke. The commission is meeting weekly at the direction of the city council to explore the issues associated with the development of large mansions rented for events, felt most acutely in Sandbridge but with citywide implications.
A meeting at 4 p.m., Thursday, June 2, is not scheduled to include public comment, though it is open to the public. It is scheduled to be held in the public works conference room on the third floor of Building 2 at the municipal center.
The group also will review issues involving Airbnb, which has received additional attention following the fatal shooting in May of an Old Dominion University student during a party at a condo rented through the site. The Sandbridge meeting focused largely on event homes, though Airbnb rentals are commonplace here, too.
There were hundreds of Airbnb rentals available in Virginia Beach as of mid-May, including a number of rentals in Sandbridge. Some of the rentals offered daily rates at the Airbnb site. Such short-term rentals are a source of concern in Sandbridge for some residents.
“We are committed to having an ordinance on the city council agenda at the 120 day mark,” said Tom Fraim, chairperson of the commission and its representative from the Princess Anne District.
Patrick Keenan, president of Siebert Realty, was the lone representative of the real estate industry to speak during the meeting in Sandbridge. He discussed encountering a home after getting a call about an overflowing lot in 2009. “Here Comes the Bride” was playing when they answered the door.
Keenen said the company saw the business opportunity there, but also a way to better manage such events, and he said the events at houses manages by Siebert Realty have overwhelmingly been weddings.
He also said that while as many as 22 of their properties have sought to host events at a time, that didn’t mean they all hosted them over the course of the year. About two-thirds might host an event, he said.
“I’m very interested in being a good neighbor,” he said.
Some residents spoke about the homes in question as “mini-hotels,” bemoaning the lack of enforcement either when the homes were built or now that they exist.
Resident Dave Watson said residents already have compromised and accept the rise of the homes and, in some cases, short-term rentals. He also said the city needs to step in to prevent other issues in residential communities.
“When is it going to stop?” he asked. “How is the city going to say no to another commercial venture?”
Others residents addressed issues such as noise before the meeting ended, noting that it can be disruptive not only to locals but also renters of “traditional” Sandbridge homes.
Herb Jones, a former president of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League, discussed concerns over the years about the size of some homes, as well as worries that “these mini-hotels will creep west of Sandpiper” Road.
Harvey Lindsay Jr. also spoke during the meeting. The veteran commercial real estate leader’s family was instrumental in the development of Sandbridge in the 1950s, and Lindsay had this warning about the event homes: “They’re changing Sandbridge, and it’s not right.”
And the speakers included another leader, a mayor – Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson, whose family has had property in Sandbridge for decades. “It may be enhancing some people’s values, but it is also degrading other people’s values,” she said regarding event homes.
Joan Davis, president of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League, said local stakeholders are still working in the community to address the issue, an effort that was underway before the commission looked at it. Davis said they intend to present their recommendations to the commission.
Ed. note — The Independent News has been covering the issue since last summer. An archive of the previous newspaper stories about event homes can be found by clicking on this link.
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