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Buncombe County Planning Board postpones vote on short-term rental restrictions for 100 days

Audience members listen during a Buncombe County Planning Board meeting April 22, 2024.
Felicia Sonmez
Audience members listen during a Buncombe County Planning Board meeting April 22, 2024.

About 100 people waited anxiously for the Buncombe County Planning Board to take a much-anticipated vote on Monday about regulations for new short-term rentals such as those found on websites like Airbnb and VRBO. They will have to wait at least another 100 days as the board voted to postpone consideration of the hotly-debated rules.

The delay came after more than an hour of public comment during a listening session at A-B Tech, as well as months of debate on the topic.

Several members of the board cited the need for further study on the issue, including the potential creation of a focus group to hear more from residents who would be affected by the regulations.

Planning Board Chair Nancy Waldrop also noted that the board has two new members who need to get up to speed on the issue.

“We have two new members of the board who are at a disadvantage due to not having heard or had the time to digest any proposals that have been made prior to their arrival and have not had the privilege of hearing all the community input the rest of us have, providing a huge source of understanding as to why we are here,” Waldrop said at the start of Monday night’s meeting.

County attorney Curt Euler advised the board to delay 100 days, with the option to extend another 100 days when that time expires if they choose to do so.

The debate over restrictions on new short-term rentals comes as the county faces a shortage of affordable housing. Supporters of the proposed regulations said they could help address the housing crisis by making more properties available for long-term rental.

The planning board faced fierce criticism from opponents, however, who argued that restricting short-term rentals would harm the economy and take away a key source of income for homeowners.

At Monday’s meeting, several residents spoke about the way the restrictions might affect their livelihoods.

Buncombe County resident Cynthia Frazier said she owns four long-term rentals and previously owned short-term rentals, although she does not own one currently. She told the board she is reaching retirement age and is concerned about the proposed restrictions.

“Under these proposed regulations, I would not be able to use my home as a short-term rental, which is something I was considering for my retirement when I purchased this home 20 years ago,” Frazier said. “So now, I am at a crossroads. What do I do for my retirement?”

There were 5,268 short-term rentals in Buncombe County in 2022, accounting for about 4.5% of the county’s total housing stock, according to AirDNA data provided by the planning board.

The draft regulations would apply only to unincorporated parts of Buncombe County. The City of Asheville and other municipalities have their own regulations and would not be affected.

The restrictions would apply only to newly-created short-term rentals; existing ones would be grandfathered in, although owners would have had to apply for a zoning permit and renew it every two years.

The planning board revised the draft regulation language over the past few months as members of the public have weighed in online and during several in-person listening sessions, where the discussion became heated at times.

Andrea Golden, co-director of the PODER Emma community group, noted at Monday night’s meeting that her neighborhood is “largely a service-worker community” and that “there is no one tool that will solve this issue” of affordable housing. But she argued that short-term rental regulations are an important piece of the puzzle.

“We have heard here, time and time again, that short-term rentals have no impact on affordable housing. But we have seen the reality in our neighborhood, where we live, every day, and we have seen the loss of essential housing to short-term rentals. … Workers need housing as well,” Golden said.

The latest version of the regulations would limit new short-term rentals to certain districts; set limits on the total permitted square footage; prohibited short-term rentals in manufactured home parks and affordable housing developments; and created requirements around waste disposal, parking and signage.

In recent months, opponents of the proposed regulations have established a website, “No Ban for Buncombe,” and launched an online media campaign.

Real estate agent Randall Blankenship thanked the planning board for postponing its vote. A focus group, he argued, will likely produce “common sense and real regulations that will actually help us from now and into the future.”

“I just want to say thank you to the planning board for taking this pause and commend you for the work to get to the point in where we are. … I’m extremely grateful to hear [of] the formation of a task force, work group, where this can actually be workshopped and dialogued out in real time,” Blankenship said.

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