By Alex Bridges
Warren County has put a halt to most short-term tourist rentals until officials revise the regulations in the coming months.
The action meant many owners running businesses without permission had to cancel future reservations at least through the end of the year. Some owners say this takes away a source of income and will hurt the local tourism industry.
Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said he recently sent letters to all owners who rent their houses on a short-term basis to tourists, without a required permit, to cease this activity. Many rental owners requested permits in recent months after being notified by the county they were violating regulations. But the Board of Supervisors, after denying a few requests, halted the process for many applicants and asked that the Planning Commission to revisit the ordinance adopted in 2012.
Supervisors plan to discuss the ordinance during its work session Tuesday following the regular meeting at 9 a.m.
Opposition to tourist rentals arose earlier this year when Tareq Salahi tried to obtain a permit for his Mosby Overlook Estates property. He had been renting the home for a year without approval. The fallout prompted many owners in other parts of the county to apply for permits, though some prompted similar complaints about noise, trash, traffic and road damage.
The fallout and ensuing uncertainty prompted Todd and Brenda Peal to put property they bought in Skyland Estates back on the market and possibly use the money to buy a home in another county to rent out. Supervisors recently denied the Peals' permit request. While the Peals can reapply, Todd Peal said Wednesday this would be a moot point if the county changes the rules to no longer allow rentals in residential zones.
"Being self-employed and being past 21, you kinda know when you're not wanted and I want to be a good neighbor," Todd Peal said. "There was certainly no intention [to violate regulations] but at this point it really doesn't matter."
Kimberly Hartke, who also received a cease-and-desist letter, has created a group in support of the short-term tourist rental business. The group is called the Shenandoah Lodging and Tourism Alliance (http://TouristsWelcome.net) and includes property owners and people connected to local tourism. Support continues to grow and many of those people affected see this as a property-rights issue, Hartke said.
Hartke's permit request goes to the Board of Supervisors next month for the scheduling of a public hearing.
Steve Muha and Chris Pollock, both retired, live in Shenandoah Farms and also rent out a house on High Top Road to tourists. Muha and Pollock are the only owners with an approved permit and they began renting the house in December 2012. While their permit isn't in jeopardy, Muha and Pollock say they support Hartke's effort and have joined her group.
Muha and Pollock say their rental operation is successful and draws hundreds of tourists from all over the world throughout the year. But Muha also said the rental business comes with costs - licensing, the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District fee assessed on all properties that helps pay for road work, and real estate taxes. Muha noted that they also collect the same transient occupancy tax that hotels and motels pass along from visitors to the county.
Muha and Pollock voiced empathy with the other owners whose permit requests remain in limbo.
"It's gonna destroy tourism here potentially," Muha said this week.
Muha suggested that the county require owners to not take any more reservations rather than force them to cancel existing bookings.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org