Sandbridge aside, Virginia Beach taking more time to weigh potential for regulating short term rentals

Ed. — This story appeared in print on March 16, 2018.


COURTHOUSE — The Virginia Beach City Council will take more time to determine how it could regulate short-term rentals, an issue felt in the rise of massive rental mansions in the residential resort of Sandbridge and, more widely, the growth of rentals of residences through online platforms such as Airbnb.

The City Council was to have considered the matter on Tuesday, March 20, during its regular meeting, but members of the body decided this to put that process on hold for 60 days.

The decision to hit pause followed meetings and recommendations of approaches involving community groups, committees and officials, as well as recommendations from the Virginia Beach Planning Commission.

Generally speaking, Sandbridge, which has built a culture of rentals to tourists over decades, is a unique case, though discussions have often noted that approaches should consider all communities in Virginia Beach. 

Some Sandbridge residents have complained about large parties in so-called “event homes,” generally large houses that were built as residences but can operate as rentals for large groups of people. Others call such concerns overblown and worry that regulation might hurt business.

Short-term rentals in Sandbridge came up in Richmond, and Sandbridge may have a different status than other communities when it comes to short-term rentals. A bill passed in the Virginia General Assembly [HB824], which also deals with rentals in Lexington and how the local government tried to regulate them there, was amended to include the Sandbridge community in Virginia Beach. 

State Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, whose 81st House District includes Sandbridge, was the bill’s patron. A version with language agreed upon by the House and Senate would make short-term rentals a “principal use” within Sandbridge, while giving the city the ability to determine how the use applies elsewhere in the city. It is scheduled to go into effect in July.

Now that there are recommendations in hand for the city to consider — including options that might include a conditional use permit for such activities — there are also concerns about unintended consequences.

Sessoms, noting that the city had been dealt a hand by action in Richmond, said there were still issues to work out before the City Council adopts rules. 

He said that rental companies in Sandbridge are responsive when issues arise, but homes or rooms rented out through online platforms when the owner is not on site may not be able to address issues promptly.

“Who is going to be the representative from Airbnb if there is a problem in the neighborhood?” Sessoms asked.

City Councilmember John Moss, who holds an at-large seat, said the public will expect the city to enforce ordinances it has on the books and determine how to direct resources to address issues with short-term rentals.

And he noted that issues with rentals made through digital applications aren’t going to decrease.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

City Councilmember Barbara Henley represents the Princess Anne District, which includes Sandbridge and rural areas of the southern city. 

Henley said she believes people should be treated equally throughout the city, and she also said some of the issues that led to large structures being built as single-family homes, only to be rented out, could happen elsewhere in the city. 

Such structures may not necessarily have to be constructed to the standards of lodging businesses such as bed and breakfasts.

“My concern in the agricultural area is these are some very large parcels,” she said, and that might mean big structures.

Last month, a number of citizens spoke during a public hearing about short-term rentals. Most of the more than 50 speakers during the hearing were from Sandbridge.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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