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County Council, May 31

Short Term Rental and Historic Preservation regulations approved by Committee
Vote on amended Greenbelt Plan deferred
Warwick Jones

The agenda for yesterdayís meeting had some important items - Short Term Rental regulations, Historic Preservation regulations, and major amendments to the Greenbelt Plan. The first two items were approved by the Planning and Public Works Committee but still need to be approved by full Council. The Greenbelt Plan amendments were before the Finance Committee and a decision was deferred.

The Short Term Rental (STR) regulations had an easy passage. Some Council members thought there could be improvements but the ordinance dealing with STRs was necessary. Presently, the County has no ordinance. And it needed one and this was a good start. In many respects, the ordinance is similar to that of the City of Charleston as it related to properties outside the Peninsula.

In the unincorporated County, property owners will need to register, obtain a business license and meet other requirements. In residential areas including single family, rentals cannot exceed 72 days in a year. However, depending on the nature of the zoning, rentals up to 144 days are possible though only with the permission of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). STRs in commercial areas are allowed for a full year.

A major difference to the City of Charleston ordinance is that in the City, the owner of a residential property offering a STR must reside on the property. In the County, depending on the zoning, the BZA may allow an STR to be managed without the need for owner residency.

The opposition to the Historic Preservation regulations related largely to the concern about restraint placed on nearby properties. The ordinance requires that changes to properties within 300 feet of a designated historical property be authorized. Staff noted that this was not as bad as it seemed. The restraint was aimed largely at potential subdivisions, not surrounding dwellings.

Council member Darby asked why such as ordinance was such a long time coming, inferring that its existence may have restrained ounwanted development of African American communities. Council Johnson supported the ordinance saying that preservation had to start as some point.

Staff noted that only the owner of property could seek historic preservation status and the application was voluntary. Only Council members Qualey, Moody and Sass voted against the ordinance

The changes relating to the Greenbelt Plan were controversial and a deferral was not surprising. It is also hard to forecast Councilís final decision on some of the issues.

The Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) in meetings over the last 6 months crafted a new plan to shape the spending arising from the second half-cent sales tax. The consultant to the County, Mr. Chuck Flink gave a detailed presentation outlining the success of the past program. There were a lot of questions and probably all Council members felt uncomfortable voting without further consideration.
In our view, there were three major issues about the new plan;

    The 50/50 allocation of funds to rural/urban projects. It was 70/30 in the first plan

    The allocations to the specific urban areas. It was left unchanged from the first plan. Allocations were made on the basis of population of each municipality

    The approval of grants initially to be determined by a GAB sub-committee supplemented by experts where necessary, in finance, valuation, banking etc. In the first plan, the Greenbelt Bank board approved rural grants and the Urban Grants Review Board, considered urban grants.

The allocation of funds between rural and urban was an issue for the GAB. The 50/50 split was effectively a compromise.. Some members wished to leave the ratio 70/30 while others, particularly those representing the municipalities, sought 70/30 n favor of urban. It was also clear that there was a division on the Finance Committee. Council members Moody and Pryor were outspoken of the need for more urban funding. They argued that the original program had met its goal and it was only right that the urban areas receive more funding. Council member Schweers was strongly in favor of the old split noting the intention of voters the first referendum. Council member Sass did not specifically support the proposed changes but he did note that the wishes of the public in relation to the second sales tax were strongly supportive of rural projects. He also thought that the program should target some specific areas.

Council member Summey was very unhappy with the allocation of the urban monies on the basis of population in each municipality. He thought that North Charleston deserved more as in his view, it made the greatest contribution to the sales tax receipts. He also thought it was the most deserving.

To our surprise, there was no discussion as to the GAB committee assuming an approval role for grants. Almost certainly, this will come when the issue is before Council again.

There was some confusion at the final vote. Certainly the Committee voted unanimously for deferral but did not indicate when it was to come back for discussion and voting. Also, was the GAB to be tasked with finding alternatives for allocating urban funds? These issues nay be discussed at the next Finance Committee meeting on June 14.