Monday, July 15, 2024

Planning Commission addresses short-term rental debate

The Thalian Hall building houses Wilmington City Hall at 102 N. Third St. downtown. (Port City Daily file photo)
The Thalian Hall building houses Wilmington City Hall at 102 N. Third St. downtown. (Port City Daily file photo)

WILMINGTON — The short term lodging debate, a point of contention for the City of Wilmington, continued Wednesday night during a special called meeting of the city’s Planning Commission.

The commission’s work session is one of several meetings the city has held addressing the question – should the City of Wilmington regulate short-term rentals of private residences?

The subject was brought to the attention of the city toward the end of 2015. In 2016, the city manager’s office began benchmarking studies to see how other cities were addressing the issue, Senior Planner Christine Hughes said.

The Planning Commission did not allow public discussion during the work session, however, once the topic comes before the council, there will be time for public comments.

The issue of what Hughes calls peer-to-peer rentals has become relevant in the past few years in cities across the country after the rise of popularity of room sharing websites such as Airbnb.

The concept of these sites is simple – instead of booking hotel rooms, visitors are connected with local homeowners who rent rooms or entire properties to guests.

For many cities, including Wilmington, there has been little to no restriction on homeowners who choose to rent their properties, causing a rift in the community.

“There is no real clear direction from the community. For every person that loves them, there is someone who hates them,” Hughes said.

In an attempt to help understand the extent of peer-to-peer rentals, the company Host Compliance examined the Wilmington market. According to the presentation there is an estimated a total of 540 rentals in the city.

The city used several benchmarking cities to compare different laws across several states including Saint Augustine, Charleston, Asheville, Chattanooga, and even the beach towns in New Hanover County.

In New Hanover County beach towns, there are currently no regulations in place, Hughes said. Cities such as Asheville allow homestays only; that means the rental of rooms within a home is acceptable, however, short-term lodging or the rental of entire homes is prohibited.

Hughes presented the commission with two staff recommendations that would regulate and allow both homestays as well as short-term lodging.

Suggested regulations would include requiring homeowners to register with the city annually, and if a home has three violations or criminal convictions in one year, the registration would be revoked, Hughes said.

The discussion on peer-to-peer rentals is not over yet and the Wilmington City Council will make the final decision deciding the fate of rentals in the city.

Those interested in watching the entire planning session can watch the meeting online.

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