City officials have moved to crack down on transient housing after residents complained about an unlicensed establishment operating within them, but issues remain over another form of short-term rentals, Airbnbs.
“I think what we have here is a good start,” Mayor Ron Niland said after last Thursday night’s action by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
The council has essentially made it more difficult for transient chamber establishments to exist in the city, including limiting the number of areas in which they can operate.
It was the presence of such an establishment at 204 W. Church St. that brought a group of residents to the municipal building in September to complain about what they perceived to be a threat to the general welfare and safety. of their neighborhood.
This would have included numerous police activities in the house where people from remote parts of the country would have rented rooms on a monthly basis. Another neighborhood resident echoed similar concerns at a council meeting in December.
“They also came and spoke to the Planning Council,” city planning director Andy Goodall said Thursday, describing the events leading up to the commissioners’ vote that tightens regulations.
The neighborhood’s opposition – containing an undercurrent of wanting to prevent the same situation from happening elsewhere in the city – has led to proposals for changes to municipal ordinances by the Planning Board, an advisory group of commissioners, that these latter approved unanimously.
A key change is to remove the term boarding house/rooming house from the books and replace it with rooming house only – while distinguishing between transitional and non-transitional establishments.
Transient facilities are now only permitted in R-4 (office-residential) areas with a special use permit, based on city government documents, with more wiggle room in place for the non-residential variety. transient.
A transient rooming house is defined as any single dwelling unit containing no more than five guest rooms and limited to the number of people for whom rent is paid, with the transient specified as staying less than 30 days. Non-transient is defined as more than 30 days.
Wording that permitted boarding houses/rooming houses in zoning districts R-20 (single family residence), R-6 (general residential), and R-4 (office-residential) has been removed for the purposes of the change set .
The unlicensed West Church Street establishment was in an R-6 neighborhood, with Goodall earlier reporting that the owner decided not to apply for a permit due to the strict building codes governing such establishments.
Under the revised ordinance, facilities must meet the city’s minimum housing and building codes before a certificate to operate will be issued.
The changes also provide for a home to be overseen by a resident manager, who Goodall says can be the owner.
A parking space is required for each guest room and one for the manager, located on the side or at the back of the structure.
The planning director said that due to the special use permit status for transitional rooming houses which also requires a hearing process, residents of an affected area will have a step up in the process. “Surrounding neighbors will be notified,” Goodall explained.
He thinks that was one of the problems with the West Church Street case.
Last Thursday’s action came after a public hearing on the proposal, which drew residents from that area.
However, only one spoke, apparently on behalf of the group, and it was to express gratitude for the way the city government handled the case.
“I want to thank you all,” Tim Ayers told Mount Airy officials. He had been one of the loudest residents to complain about the situation in September.
Mayor Niland thanked Ayers and other residents for their patience throughout the process.
The changes were accompanied by comments from council members regarding the implications for other types of housing within the city limits.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley asked how the new order might affect Airbnb sites, also known as Air B and B, and accommodation facilities.
Airbnb refers to a rental idea that dates back to 2007 in San Francisco, where two cash-strapped roommates lent space in their apartment to people attending a design conference due to overbooked hotels.
They named their business “Air Bed and Breakfast” since customers slept on air mattresses. The concept then spread to other locations where short-term vacation rentals of cabins, beach houses, single homes, and even boats are offered to travelers.
“Bed and breakfasts have their own category,” Goodall said of local regulations, and so do shelters.
“At this time, we do not regulate Airbnbs,” added the planning director regarding this specific type of accommodation.
He said he occupies a murky area where circumstances can be difficult to establish, such as a single-family dwelling becoming a two-family dwelling in violation of certain zoning rules.
The mayor recognized a lot of “grey area” in this regard.
Commissioner Jon Cawley was quick to comment on potential issues with Airbnb’s lack of guidelines from an operator’s perspective. “At what point do you say, ‘I’m not a boarding house, I’m an Airbnb.'”
Goodall said Mount Airy was awaiting guidance from state officials regarding the relatively new form of accommodation.
But he advises anyone considering opening an Airbnb facility to check with Mount Airy’s planning department first.
Street Closures Approved
When is a street not really a street? The answer: when it’s never built in the first place and only exists on paper, but officially remains on the books until it’s finally taken down by the curators.
This happened when meeting with two unopened streets, one located off North Andy Griffith Parkway near Food Lion and the other off East Haymore Street in the middle of town.
Both “streets” are less than 1,000 feet long and have never been accepted for maintenance by the municipality or the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Typically, street closure requests are initiated to allow neighboring property owners to have right of way or other access to sites that would not be possible if street status were in place.
Public hearings were also required for the closures, but only one person spoke during either, Jody Phillips, who had requested the change to the East Haymore Street location.
“This property has been in my family for generations,” said Phillips, who mentioned that different lot configurations for residential square footage over the years ended up with a small remaining parcel containing the “street,” which is only used for nothing.
The rights to the property in question will be shared between him and a neighboring landowner, Phillips said.
Local businessman Tom Webb called for the other closure of North Andy Griffith Parkway.