In a letter to the editor in The Chronicle of Nov. 18, Ms. Nieltje Gedney defended the practice of renting out her home, which is in the R1 zoning district, for short-term stays. She made two basic points: 1) that Shepherdstown's Title 9 ordinances do not prohibit this use of a home in the R1 district, and 2) that the town implicitly supports this position because it does not require her to be licensed or pay taxes on such a business. I would like to address those points.
The Title 9 ordinances clearly state that "transient lodgings" are only legal in the R/C (Residential/Commercial) zone or at a licensed Bed-and-Breakfast. Unfortunately, the term "transient lodgings" is not further defined. Webster defines a transient visitor as "one who stays for a short time." I think any reasonable person would define someone who stays for only a weekend, or even a week, as they do at Ms. Gedney's establishment, as a transient visitor. Ms. Gedney is clearly violating the spirit of the law, and I think any objective person would say she is also violating the letter of the law.
As for why the town does not require Ms. Gedney to have a business license, all I can say is how could they? What sense would it make for the Town to write an ordinance requiring the owner of an illegal business to have a license? If there is any question as to whether or not Ms. Gedney is running a business consider that she is charging people money to stay at her house and she maintains a listing on a website (www.vrbo.com) advertising the availability of her house for which she pays a minimum of $299 per year. That sounds like a business to me. Yet, she does not pay commercial real estate taxes on her property, as all other businesses in Town do, so her financial contribution to the Town is only half what it should be.
This situation can be easily clarified by the Planning Commission. All they need do is to add a definition of "transient lodgings" to the Title 9 ordinances. My suggestion would be any lodging rented for less than one month at a time. That would allow actual landlords to rent property on a month-to-month basis as is commonly done. If we had a simple, clear definition we would not be having this argument and it would be clear whether or not Ms. Gedney's use of her property is legal. With other people considering property use similar to Ms. Gedney's I think the Planning Commission needs to clarify this situation as soon as possible.