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As Buncombe hits pause on short-term rental regulations, Weaverville moves forward

A screenshot from an Airbnb listing in Weaverville.
Airbnb.com
A screenshot from an Airbnb listing in Weaverville.

Buncombe County decided two months ago to postpone a vote on regulations for new short-term rentals, but the Town of Weaverville is moving ahead on the issue.

On a 3-to-2 vote last week, the Weaverville Planning Board recommended that the Town Council adopt restrictions on new short-term rentals made through websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. The Weaverville Town Council has not yet set a date for a vote, but opponents plan to attend the council’s June 24 meeting to voice their opposition.

The recent developments come as Weaverville planners, along with officials in other parts of Buncombe County, seek to tackle housing availability and affordability amid soaring growth and rising costs in the region.

In its June 6 recommendation to the Town Council, the Weaverville Planning Board noted that it has been working on the issue for more than a year. It referenced a report on short-term rental impact from the Land of Sky Regional Council – a planning and development organization for Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Transylvania counties – produced after several engagement sessions with Weaverville residents.

“The Planning Board has discussed this complicated topic at 8 or more of its meetings since its joint meeting with Town Council on the topic was held on March 21, 2023, and devoted large amounts of time outside of those meetings to better understand the issues,” the board wrote in its recommendation to the Town Council.

“Based on the information gathered during the input sessions and the Planning Board’s conversations on April 2 and May 7, staff has developed a set of draft regulations.”

According to the Land of Sky Regional Council report, as of November 2023, there were 2,125 housing units in Weaverville. Eighty-five of those units were active short-term rentals, amounting to about 4% of the town’s housing stock.

In Buncombe County overall, short-term rentals represented about 4.5% of the total housing stock in 2022, according to AirDNA data provided by the Buncombe County Planning Board.

The Land of Sky Regional Council also noted in its report that median home values in Weaverville rose by 64% from 2017 to 2022, compared with 47% nationwide.

Proponents short-term rental restrictions argued regulations protect the supply of affordable housing and preserve the character of neighborhoods. Opponents said short-term rentals benefit the local economy and that there is insufficient data to show that the properties have any significant impact on the affordable housing supply.

Buncombe County’s planning board had been grappling with the issue for months. It abruptly hit the brakes in April, arguing that more time and community input are needed before a final vote.

The draft regulations recommended by the Weaverville Planning Board would restrict new short-term rentals to certain districts. Similar to the Buncombe County proposal, existing short-term rentals would be grandfathered in.

The Buncombe County proposal would have applied only to unincorporated parts of the county, so municipalities such as Weaverville would not have been affected.

In making its recommendation, the Weaverville Planning Board also noted nearly a dozen concerns expressed by members of the board.

One concern is that the number of short-term rentals in the town may not be enough to justify new regulations. Others cited potential legal risks, the need for adequate resources to enforce the regulations and the possible benefit of waiting to see whether county leaders impose new regulations.

Chip Craig, chairman of the Short-Term Rental Alliance, which opposes the regulations, said Tuesday that members of his group are mobilizing to speak out against the draft Weaverville regulations just as they have done over the proposed Buncombe County restrictions.

"We’re not opposed to regulations; there are some bad apples out there that put too many people in houses or don’t follow safety issues. … There are some regulations that I think would help the industry," Craig, who is the owner of Graybeard Realty, told BPR in an interview. "But there’s no real data or facts that say a ban helps anything."

The Land of Sky Regional Council delved into the issue at length in its Weaverville report. It noted that the "larger issue" may be the need for a greater housing supply in the town, which faces "challenges around increasing supply such as lack of available land due to mountainous terrain and sufficient water service."

"How much of an impact of short-term rentals have on affordability is unclear, but the major factor in housing affordability in Weaverville may be a challenge of availability," the report stated.

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