CharlestonWatch.com

The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch

Archives

Individual Articles

City Council, October 23

Still no resolution on Short Term Rental issues
City to review proposed amendment to limit construction hours
Marc Knapp

Like many of our fellow citizens, we are confused and irritated. The City’s Short Term Rental (STR) Ordinance has been in the making now for about two years. Despite the seeming strong citizen support for regulation of short term rentals, the many hearings and debate, and the implementation of enforcement measures, the final shape of the ordinance is uncertain. It shouldn’t be! And the Mayor and Council ought to be embarrassed.

At a meeting earlier this year, Council approved the Ordinance after a contentious hearing. Some Council members had concern over some items. It was late at night, members were fatigued and it looked likely that the Ordinance’s passage would fail. The Mayor stepped in and suggested that concerns of members could be addressed by creating “exceptions”. Council then approved the Ordinance but on the understanding that staff would work on the language for these exceptions. This they did, but the exceptions ultimately came back in the form of an amended ordinance. The amendments, in our opinion and that of others including some Council members, gutted the ordinance.

The amended ordinance was before Council last night. And in some respects, the setting was similar with the final reading of the original ordinance. – it was late in the evening, members were tired, and as resolution seemed impossible, they grasped at straws to keep the ordinance alive. Like the decision to craft exceptions earlier this year, the amended ordinance did nothing to bring closure. To use the cliché, it just pushed the can down the road. In or opinion, the matter could and should have been settled last night. We believe that if a vote were taken, the proposed amendments would have been rejected. At worst, the few issues could have been clearly defined and a vote taken on each, settling the matter.

So what were the issues?

• Whether a property should be on the National Register of Historic Properties to qualify for an STR permit when the property is in the Old and Historic districts.
• That properties did not need to meet off street parking requirements if spaces could be secured in a garage or lot within 600 feet of the property.
• That the owner had to be present on a property when it was rented.
• Whether whole-house rentals would be allowed on special lots in residential areas.

As in the Council meeting when the existing ordinance was passed, Council member Waring led the charge to seek exceptions. Then and last night, he spoke long and repetitively, and more so than any other Council member. He thought that the National Register requirement would not pass muster by the Courts; that allowing parking in garages was reasonable; that requiring residency on a property used for an STR was unenforceable; and whole house rentals on special lots would have minimal impact.

The Mayor defended the existing ordinance and wondered about the suggested doubtful legality of the National Register requirement. Until raised last night, the Mayor had never heard that legality could be an issue. Like us, he probably wondered why the Council member had not raised the issue before. Council member Seekings noted that City garages were at capacity and it would be difficult for an STR property owner to secure spaces. And as far as enforcement of the residency requirement, it seemed Dan Riccio of the Livability Court had little concern. As Council member Seeking noted, already 625 illegal STRs “have been taken off the books”.

Council member White was clearly frustrated with the lack of progress last night and sought a way forward. He proposed that the matter go back to staff- legal and planning - to deliberate and make a recommendation. The rest of his motion was convoluted and confusing but it allowed Staff to recommend that the issues be sent back to a reconstituted Task Force. The Task Force recommendations would then go back to the Planning Commission and to the Council. And according to the proposal, Council would consider the outcome at its first meeting in December. It was a life line to Council member Waring and he grasped it. Council voted to accept Council member White’s proposal with Council members Seekings and Mitchell, and the Mayor opposed.

Jeez….so much effort for a simple resolution. We say simple. We think the original ordinance should remain unchanged and be tested over the next 6 months or so. In the light of experience, changes could be considered. This was the request of most citizens speaking in Citizens Participation. As to the specific issues, if the legality of the National Register is questionable, an alternative should be found. It should not be difficult and may simply be a building’s age as in the old Bed And Breakfast Ordinance. And as far as the other specific issues, we think that Council should have discussed and voted on each last night. We doubt that any would have passed. Sadly, Council member White’s motion pre-empted such a vote.
##########

There was little doubt about proposed amendments to the City Code relating to noise and hours of operation for construction and building activities. Such controls may be necessary to protect residents in residential areas but the proposed amendments were poorly written and created many issues. They had been developed without input from the construction and home building industries. And indeed, representatives of both spoke against the amendments as written.

Council voted to defer consideration while the amendments were reviewed and views of the construction industry sought.

The proposed amendments limited high impact construction activity to between 7 am and 7 pm on weekdays and between 9 am and 7 pm on Saturday. No work was allowed on Sundays. Low impact activity was permitted until 11 pm on weekdays and from 9 am to 5 pm on Sundays. Council members not only questioned the hours but also the definitions of high and low impact activities. And what happened on a Saturday when there was low impact work?

##########
Just before the conclusion of last night’s meeting, Council member Griffin expressed concern about the growth of panhandling in the City. Something needed to be done, not necessarily to remove the panhandlers but to help them, particularly to find shelter. The Mayor supported the Council member and the issue is to be considered by the Community Development Committee.