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Council amends Title 9

By Staff | Dec 16, 2011

The Shepherdstown Town Council unanimously voted to approve the second reading of two amendments to Title 9 regarding short-term rental properties.

Some controversy arose at November’s council meeting when two property owners, Don Burgess and Nieltje Gedney, defended their right to rent out properties in the “residential-one” district for varied amounts of time.

In a Nov. 18 Letter to the Editor, Gedney claimed that the ordinance, as written, does not prohibit the short-term leasing of property in any Shepherdstown district.

In a statement emailed to members of town government and the press on Tuesday afternoon, Burgess asked the council to consider what should characterize the nature of Shepherdstown’s historic district.

Burgess provided two photos, demonstrating the renovation of his property now being used a short-term rental. Burgess claimed that his ability to rent out his property afforded the improvements made.

Burgess urged the town council to consider the “economic and aesthetic health” of the town and costs associated with preserving historic homes.

“If you really want people to contribute to the preservation of historic Shepherdstown through the renovation of neglected buildings, then you would not consider a regulation, such as this amendment, that ignores the market realities of that process,” his statement read.

In August Burgess applied to make changes to his property located on High Street and stated that he intended to use it for short-term rentals.

A recommendation was made for the approval of Burgess’s request by the historic landmarks commission. Portions of Burgess’s application were then approved by the planning commission.

Following a recommendation made by the planning commission to amend Title 9 with regard to the regulation of short-term rental properties this fall, Burgess filed suit against the corporation of Shepherdstown and town officials on Nov. 7.

At the council meeting Tuesday, planning commission president and town council member Josh Stella explained that the proposed amendments sought to clarify ambiguities in the current ordinance regarding the definition of “transient lodging,” “short-term rental,” and “boarding house.”

Stella said that any perceived loophole regarding the prohibition of short-term rental properties does not exist.

“We know what the intent (of the original ordinance) was,” he said.

Dow Benedict, a former planning commission member who helped draft the current ordinance, spoke to original intent of the ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting.

Benedict said the ordinance was intended to restrict the R1 district to single family homes, though an exception called “the Mrs. White rule” was made in order to allow property owners in the R1 district to lease out their homes as long-term rental apartments.

“We wanted Shepherdstown to be a family-friendly place,” he said.

With regard to ambiguities in the original ordinance, Benedict conceded that the ordinance could be improved.

“At the time we thought we addressed everything. And obviously, we had not,” he said.

Benedict said that he believes the original ordinance prohibits short-term rental properties in the R1 district and urged the council to approve the addition of Section 9-214 and definitions to the current ordinance.

“We came to that agreement to protect the R1 severely…I hope you will do the same,” he said.

The next town council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at town hall.