City officials have moved to address transient housing after residents complained about an unlicensed establishment operating in their midst, but problems remain regarding another form of short-term rental, Airbnbs.
“I think what we have here is a good start,” Mayor Ron Niland said after Thursday night’s action by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
Basically, the board made it difficult for temporary accommodation establishments to exist in the city, including limiting the number of areas in which they can operate.
It was precisely the presence of such a facility at 204 W. Church St. that drew 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 allegedly included a lot of police activity at the house where people from far flung parts of the country were said to be renting rooms by the month. Similar concerns were echoed by another neighborhood resident during a council meeting in December.
“They also came and talked to the Planning Board,” City Planning Director Andy Goodall said Thursday, describing the events that led to the commissioners’ vote tightening regulations.
Neighborhood opposition, which contained an undercurrent of wanting to prevent the same situation from occurring in other parts of the city, led to proposed changes to city ordinances by the Planning Board, an advisory group to commissioners, which the latter approved. unanimously.
A key change is to remove the term boarding/guest house from the books and replace it with just guest house, while also differentiating between transient and non-transient establishments.
Transitional facilities are now allowed only in R-4 (Office-Residential) zones with a special use permit, according to city government documents, with more wiggle room for the non-transitional variety.
A transient rooming house is defined as any single dwelling unit containing no more than five rooms and limited to that number of people where rent is paid, specifying that transients stay less than 30 days. Non-transient is defined as more than 30 days.
The wording that has allowed rooming/boarding houses in the R-20 (single-family residential), R-6 (general residential), and R-4 (office-residential) zoning districts was deleted for the purposes of the amendment package.
The unlicensed facility on West Church Street was in an R-6 neighborhood, and Goodall previously reported that the owner chose not to apply for a permit due to the strict building codes that govern such facilities.
Under the revised ordinance, facilities must meet minimum city housing and state building codes before a certificate to operate is issued.
The changes also require that a home be overseen by a resident manager, who Goodall says may be the owner.
One parking space is required for each guest room and one for the manager, located to the side or rear of the structure.
The planning director said that due to the status of the special use permit for transient rooming houses which also requires a hearing process, residents of an affected area will have a step forward in the proceedings. “The surrounding neighbors will pick up on that,” Goodall explained.
He believes this 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 of 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 matter.
“I want to thank all of you,” Tim Ayers told Mount Airy officials. He had been one of the most vocal residents to complain about the situation in September.
Mayor Niland thanked Ayers and the other residents for being patient throughout the process.
The changes were accompanied by comments from council members about the implications for other types of housing in the city limits.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley asked how the new ordinance could affect Airbnb sites, also known as Air B and Bs, along with lodging facilities.
Airbnb refers to a rental idea dating back to 2007 in San Francisco, where two roommates in need of money lent spaces in their apartment to people attending a design conference because hotels were overbooked.
They gave their endeavor the name “Air Bed and Breakfast” since guests slept on air mattresses. Later, the concept was expanded to other places where short-term vacation rentals of cabins, beach houses, unique houses and even boats are offered to travelers.
“Bed and breakfasts have their own category,” Goodall said of local regulations, and the same goes for shelters.
“As of now we do not regulate Airbnbs,” added the planning director on that specific type of housing.
He said it occupies a murky area where the circumstances can be difficult to establish, such as a single-family home being converted to a two-family home in violation of certain zoning rules.
The mayor recognized a lot of “gray area” in this regard.
Commissioner Jon Cawley was quick to comment on the potential problems with Airbnb’s lack of guidelines from an operator’s point of view. “At what point do you say: ‘I’m not a pension, I’m an Airbnb'”?
Goodall said Mount Airy is awaiting guidance from state officials regarding the relatively new form of housing.
But he advises anyone planning to open an Airbnb facility to check with the Mount Airy Planning Department first.
Approved street closures
When is a street not really a street? The answer: when it’s never built in the first place and exists only on paper, but remains officially on the books until finally scrapped by commissioners.
That occurred at the meeting with two unopened streets, one located on North Andy Griffith Parkway in the vicinity of Food Lion and the other on 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.
Street closure requests are typically initiated to allow neighboring property owners right-of-way or other access to sites that would not be possible if the street status were in effect.
Public hearings were also required for the closures, but only one person spoke during any of them, Jody Phillips, who had requested the change of location on East Haymore Street.
“This property has been in my family for generations,” said Phillips, who mentioned that different lot configurations for residential acreage over the years ended up with a small parcel containing the “street,” which serves no purpose. .
Rights to the property involved will be divided between him and a neighboring property owner, Phillips said.
Local businessman Tom Webb called for the other North Andy Griffith Parkway closure.