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Commission leaves items on back burner

By Staff | Aug 19, 2011

Monday, the Shepherdstown Planning Commission held a public hearing for four separate issues in which none of them continued on to the next phase of a first reading.

In a public hearing set out to address areas of the town ordinance in need of revisions, commissioners tabled a proposed amendment on erosion control and stream protection; took no action on revisions made to the fence ordinance and changes related to historic preservation; and referred short-term rental housing amendments to a committee.

Locals voiced their opinions about changes to the fence ordinance, but they were especially vocal about short-term rental housing, with proponents and opponents of the issue present.

The commission was presented Monday night with the opportunity to adopt an additional section to the town’s ordinance – Section 9-215 – regarding the regulation of short-term rental properties. Mayor Jim Auxer said the town decided to address this issue after they discovered a property on the west end of town in Residential Zone 1 renting out rooms on short-term leases.

According to the draft, this type of housing “shall be a business similar to other transient lodging such as bed & breakfast establishments, boarding houses, hotels, motels, rooming houses, and tourist homes.” These are not home occupations.

The draft also laid out the number of individuals permitted in each type of unit – three occupants per studio space, four in a one bedroom, six in a two bedroom and nine individuals are permitted in a unit with three or more bedrooms.

And this type of property use, which also must consider parking regulations, is not currently defined by residential zones in the drafted ordinance by the town.

Commissioner David Springer thought that if the town did not regulate this, Resident District 1 could find itself with these types of properties.

“R1 is the most protected resident district and if we didn’t do something similar to this proposed amendment then anyone in an R1 district may find themselves with short-term rental housing adjacent to them,” he said.

Resident Zenia Kuzma said she originally opposed short-term rentals at the thought of having “a frat party for three days.” But then she thought the town could reap the benefits of this type of property use.

“There is parking in the summer because the students are gone,” Kuzma said. “And there’s tourism, and it’d be a good way to promote tourism and heritage tourism.”

But Jim Ford, who owns the Thomas Shepherd Inn at the intersection of Duke and German Streets, opposed the idea because of his experiences with groups renting out the entire house.

“When we have a group that rents the whole house, they come with coolers of beer and tend to cause huge problems,” he said.

But, Ford said, he and his wife, Jeanne Muir, can control large groups because they are present at the location.

He also said he was surprised to see the town “beef up” the ordinance to allow this type of property use. Ford said he hoped if Shepherdstown adopts this ordinance that no area or property owner should be grandfathered in.

Sonya Evanisko, a homeowner in the R1 district, spoke out against the adoption of the ordinance, citing the town’s willingness to establish a strong residential community as the major reason to deny the amendment.

“I think there are other issues that occur especially when the owner is not living in that property,” Evanisko said, citing parking problems that occur for lessees of a property.

She said there are even multiple 12-month leased properties in her area that are in poor condition because tenants do not care for them.

“Please do not allow (this) Protect it for the people who have a vested interest of living and raising their families in this community.”

Harpers Ferry resident Don Burgess, who had an application approved for repairs on a High Street house which he hopes to use for short-term rentals, spoke for the amended ordinance section.

In a statement to the commission, Burgess gave multiple reasons why the property use should be encouraged. He cited its compatibility with Shepherdstown as a destination for tourists, visitors, trainees and students, among others; its compatiblity with the single-family residential zone; and short-term rental owners’ interest in the community as a livable place to make properties desirable.

“In these poor economic times with high unemployment, depressed property values, business way down for shops and restaurants, and many houses either perennially for sale or empty or in poor condition, you should be looking at ways to improve conditions, not eliminating worthwhile possibilities,” Burgess read in a statement.

The commission agreed to put together a committee, headed by planning commission Vice President Chris Stroech and joined by commissioners Theresa Trainor and Kathryn Bragg-Stella.

Another public hearing will be scheduled in the coming weeks to again hear these items.