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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Contentious Buncombe Co. short-term rental rules head to a vote

Members of the Buncombe County Planning Board attend an April 1, 2024 work session.
Buncombe County Government
Members of the Buncombe County Planning Board attend an April 1, 2024 work session.

The Buncombe County Planning Board will vote later this month on whether to recommend the county commission adopt restrictions on new short-term rentals.

The highly-anticipated vote is scheduled to take place during an April 22 listening session – the third so far on the issue – at the A-B Tech Ferguson Auditorium. The session is expected to begin at 5:30 p.m.

If the planning board recommends changes, it’s up to the County Commission to decide the next steps. Commissioners can accept or reject the recommendation, or adopt it with changes.

The board finalized the language of the proposed short-term rental ordinance at an April 1 work session.

“Being a member of a community requires all recognize the quality of life sought by our neighbors is equally as important as the quality of life we seek for ourselves,” Planning Board Chair Nancy Waldrop said at the start of Monday’s meeting.

Proponents argue the restrictions would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis in Buncombe County and mitigate issues such as noise and community displacement that often accompany short-term rentals. Opponents argue many short-term rentals would not be considered affordable housing and that for some property owners, the rentals provide a valuable revenue stream.

For months, the planning board has been working to craft regulations for new short-term rentals (also known as STRs or vacation rentals), which are often booked through websites such as Airbnb and VRBO.

The regulations would:

  • Limit new short-term rentals to certain districts
  • Set limits on the total permitted square footage of each STR
  • Prohibit such rentals in manufactured home parks and affordable housing developments
  • Create requirements around waste disposal, parking and signage

The restrictions would apply only to newly-created STRs – existing ones would be grandfathered in. The rules also would not apply to property in Asheville and other municipalities, which have their own regulations.
At Monday’s meeting, the board made several changes to the language of the proposal.

In order to maintain their grandfathered status, existing short-term rentals would have to be rented for a minimum of two nights per year, instead of two nights every 180 days as the previous language stated.

The new language also states that the owner, operator or manager of the property shall be located within a 50-mile radius and be able to respond to any concerns in a timely manner.

Most short-term rentals would be limited to a maximum of 4,000 square feet, although the limit would be 9,000 square feet for rentals on one acre or more of land.

Short-term rentals would not be allowed in “attached dwellings” such as duplexes, townhomes or multi-family dwellings, such as apartments. The new language also draws a distinction between “urban” and “rural” short-term rentals, with different regulations for each. For example, most property on land zoned for rural use may only be used as a short-term rental if there's a primary residence on the same parcel.

At the previous listening session at A-B Tech, more than three dozen residents spoke out about the proposal. Hundreds attended an earlier session in January. The planning board has also been inundated with emails from residents commenting on the proposed restrictions.

Planning board members opened Monday’s meeting by sharing their thoughts on the proposal in the wake of all the recent public comments. Several said that while the regulations may not be perfect, it is important for the county to take some action to address the housing crisis.

Board member Anthony Coxie said that he had initially been skeptical of the need to regulate short-term rentals but then changed his mind after spending extensive time listening to residents and reading studies such as the Dogwood Health Trust’s Housing Needs Assessment.

“At this point, I agree with the direction we’re headed,” he said. “We cannot allow a situation where we are constantly addressing the needs of tourists and not addressing the needs of our own people.”

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.