Warren County puts rental requests on hold

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders have stopped the flood of property owners wanting to legally rent homes to tourists.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday denied one couple’s request for a permit they need to rent out property in Skyland Estates on a short-term basis to tourists. The board sent a similar request back to the Planning Commission. Supervisors then directed the commission and county staff to review the regulations that allow for short-term tourist rentals in certain zoning districts with a permit.

Todd and Brenda Peal had asked for a conditional-use permit so they could rent property at 1754 Khyber Pass on a short-term basis. The board had tabled action on the request after holding a public hearing on the matter last month, citing unanswered legal questions. At a previous meeting, supervisors denied a permit request by Tareq Salahi who wanted to rent property he owns in Mosby Overlook Estates. Salahi subsequently filed a lawsuit in the Warren County Circuit Court against the board over its decision.

Board Chairman Dan Murray Jr. said Wednesday that supervisors still have concerns about short-term tourist rentals.

“There’s too many unanswered questions from as simple as trash removal to road safety, et cetera,” Murray said. “Some of the homeowners associations are fine with [rentals]. Some of them aren’t and they have legitimate questions and the only way we can really move forward in a positive mode is to have it re-looked at by the Planning Commission and Assistant [County] Attorney Dan Whitten.”

The board asked the commission and the attorney to come back with any recommendation they may have pertaining to the conditional-use permits. All permit applications awaiting approval have been put on hold.

County Planner Matt Wendling said Wednesday the main question for short-term tourist rentals is whether or not the use is appropriate for the community and its underlying zoning district.

“Based on what the community came out to say at the public hearings spoke volumes to the board members as to whether it was harmonious with the character of the community,” Wendling said. “That, certainly, is something that we as staff have to address and the Planning Commission will address in this next phase of review.”

Noise, parking and other safety issues also will be discussed. Items addressed in the county code, such as hunting and use of firearms in certain areas, were not specifically reviewed with regards to short-term tourist rentals.

“It’s really the general impact that could be brought to the neighborhood who just don’t know the rules and aren’t made aware of them or don’t really care,” Wendling said. “They don’t have that vested interest in the community that full-time property owners who live there have and I think that’s what we were hearing.”

The county adopted language in its code in April 2012 that allows short-term tourist rentals under certain circumstances. Since then the county has approved one conditional-use permit approved for short-term tourist rentals in the Blue Mountain subdivision, Wendling said. Zoning Administrator Erick Moore found three rentals that are allowed by right on agriculture property of 5 acres or greater. Permits remain in the pipeline. A number of violations were resolved without having to go to the commission, Wendling said.

More than a dozen property owners in recent months applied for permits, all of whom had been renting their homes without proper approval, Murray noted.

“It’s a tough situation and all this came out, not because people are volunteering to register their businesses, but because they got caught,” Murray said.

The chairman said he’s received numerous phone calls from residents inquiring about short-term rentals. Murray said some people have asked why property owners who rent out their homes aren’t charged the same as any other business.

“That’s a legal issue I can’t answer,” Murray said. “The only way to do it is do it the right way and that’s to answer all questions before you move forward.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com