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City Council, March 26

Strong scrutiny of Short Term Rental ordinance
Vote deferred till next Council meeting
Warwick Jones

Council deferred a vote at the second reading of the proposed Short Term Rental (STR) ordinance. It was not because members were opposed but rather the need to refine, clarify and amend some of the parts. An updated draft is scheduled to be given to Council members early next week. We may be optimistic but in our view, there is a good chance that at the second reading in two weeks, the ordinance will be passed.

Yesterday was a long day for Council members. It began at 2.30 pm with a work shop on STRs followed by the usual Ways and Means, and Council business at 4.30pm. Discussion on the second reading of the ordinance lasted for about an hour. But it was clear from comments made at the workshop, in Citizens Participation, and at the Council hearing, that there were shortcomings in the proposed ordinance. There were spirited exchanges in the discussion, some dubious facts espoused and some unnecessarily long speeches. Some Council members wanted to simply defer discussion. But some, including the Mayor wanted to move ahead and amend the ordinance to reflect the concerns expressed by members in the workshop and earlier discussion. The Mayor summarized these, and in group discussion with Council, defined broadly the necessary changes. Staff were tasked to provide the language to incorporate into the proposed ordinance so it could be brought back for a vote in two weeks.

To recapitulate, the proposed ordinance will have 3 classes of STRs for the residential areas.

The most stringent conditions will relate to Class 1. These are properties in the Old and Historic Districts on the Peninsula. To qualify for a STR permit, the property must be individually listed on the National Register of Historic Properties. This condition did not sit well with Council member Jackson. It was too confining. But as Council member Seekings said, this was probably the least controversial limitation in the ordinance as it was approved by all the neighborhood groups in the Class 1 area. Council member Jackson also said that there were only 47 properties that were registered, ignoring the fact that many properties qualified for listing but had not sought recognition. The listing requirement was not changed but Council agreed to remove the necessity to have a 40 road frontage. This requirement was considered redundant in view of the other requirements the listing on the National Register, and parking.

Class 2 properties ranks next in stringency. To qualify for a STR permit, the property must be 50 years old. The original proposed ordinance confined these properties to the Old City district, abutting the Class 1 areas. The Class 2 will now include all of the remaining Peninsula up to the boundary with North Charleston. The change was largely to accommodate citizens in the Wagener Terrace area. This area was previously in Class 3 but the neighborhood sought the more limiting Class 2 designation.

The Class 3 properties relate to all areas in the City not included in Classes 1 and 2. The building age requirement for Class 3 properties was eased but as Council member White suggested and others agreed, the easing will make no real difference. As we understand, the STR Task Force recommended properties be 50 years to qualify for an STR permit in the Class 3 area. This was changed to 5 years in the ordinance before Council last night. But in the discussion last night, it was agreed that there should be no age limitation. The age requirement was originally seen as a way of impeding new construction aimed at providing STR housing. Council member White had his electorate on Daniel Island in mind when he first proposed the change. He said that many houses were not 5 years old and besides, nobody was going to build dedicated STR housing. They were very unlikely to build it in suburban areas of the City too as it was the Peninsula where most STRs were located.

Parking was an issue relating to each of the Classes. The wording in the ordinance was confusing and to some contradictory and just plain wrong. Staff is to tidy this up but we think Council sought to ensure that a dedicated parking space should be required for each bedroom in Class 1 and 2 and for each bedroom after the first bedroom in Class 3. Council member Waring thought that parking requirements could be met if dedicated spaces were obtained in a parking garage. This had no support.

We should also note that a large part of the Workshop was taken up by a presentation and discussion on STR enforcement. Dan Riccio, the director of Livability and Tourism gave the presentation and fielded many question from Council members. He told Council that there were offers out to employ the 3 persons involved in enforcement and plans to purchase the necessary software. He said the software could read beyond what was published on the internet and could obtain details of location and the property, and previous rentals. He spoke of a 90 day transition period to get everything working and for completing permit applications. Some Council member expressed concern about the ability of the City to monitor STRs and collect fines. Could the City handle the possibly large number of prosecutions? What if landlords were out of state? Wed simply sad that Dan Riccio did not share these concerns.

Finally, over the weeks, many citizens have claimed that STR ordinance impinges on their property rights. But as the Mayor and City Attorney Cantwell said last night, the existing ordinance of the City does not allow STRs in most residential areas. So those landlords renting do not have the right to do so. The proposed STR ordinances will legally give them ability in a proscribed way.