By Alex Bridges
A congressional hopeful who snuck into a White House function with his wife in 2009 has opened his Warren County home to tourists.
But Tareq Salahi now needs a permit to rent his four-bedroom home at 440 Scenic Overlook Drive to tourists. Salahi has applied to the Warren County Planning and Zoning Department for a conditional-use permit that would allow short-term tourist rentals in the home.
Salahi said by phone Friday that he saw an opportunity to rent rooms out while he campaigns for the Republican Party nomination to run for congress. Salahi noted that he also could use the supplemental income to help pay the mortgage.
Salahi pointed out that the home provides a scenic view and also serves as a starting point for tourists traveling around the valley.
"It's great for people to escape, if you will, the hustle and bustle of Washington," Salahi said. "It's a win-win for me since I'm on the road campaigning nearly every day, staying out and about."
The home has attracted one group of people who "had a great time," Salahi said. The group planned a weekend stay that included visiting Skyline Caverns and local wineries, he added. Salahi said he gives guests advice on where they should go for fine wine.
The Planning Commission will discuss the request at its meeting Wednesday night, where the panel likely would ask department staff to advertise the permit application for a public hearing.
Salahi had been renting out rooms in the house without a permit at least since early December, according to information from Planner Matt Wendling. Planning Director Taryn Logan stated in a Feb. 12 report that staff learned about the tourist rental when the department received a complaint from the Home Owners Association of Mosby Overlook Estates.
Salahi noted that he started renting out the rooms a few weeks before he received a letter from the county department informing him of the need for a permit.
Salahi outlined his reasons for requesting the permit in a statement of justification dated Dec. 6 and filed with the department.
"After my recent divorce, I now live alone in a four-bedroom, five-bath residence, and have become solely responsible for the mortgage payments and real estate tax fees to Warren County," Salahi states. "As a result of making ends meet, it is necessary for me to rent the house out to vacationers and tourists alike."
Salahi and his now ex-wife Michaele Salahi purchased the property in 2006. The Salahis divorced in 2012.
"I rent the house our as a short-stay tourism location in the beauty of Warren County for visitors to come to our community and spend their dollars here in Front Royal," Tareq Salahi states. "Without the income from my rental program, the house will undoubtedly go into foreclosure as already a number of homes surrounding me."
Salahi's property, located in the Mosby Overlook Estates in the Happy Creek District, is zoned for agricultural use. The property abuts vacant lots and a single-family home. County zoning regulations allow short-term tourist rentals as a by-right use on properties of 5 acres or more, said Wendling. The zoning ordinance allows short-term tourist rentals on properties of less than 5 acres with an approved conditional-use permit. Salahi's property is 4.9995 acres, thus prompting the need for the permit, according to information in Logan's report dated Feb. 12.
"Somebody actually came up here and measured and said 'you need 3 more inches of dirt,'" Salahi said.
The county defines short-term tourist rental as a single-family home rented for a period of less than 30 days.
The Warren County Health Department submitted comments about the proposed use in a letter to Logan in late January. Katherine Williamson, senior environmental health specialist for the department, recommends that any permit issued to Salahi include a condition that no more than eight occupants at any one time because the septic system is designed to serve a four-bedroom home.
County regulations also require that parking be located in the driveway or other designated and approved areas. Staff indicated that the house does have adequate parking on site.
Salahi is running for the 10th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, who has decided not to seek re-election in November.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org