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Tourist rentals get temporary relief

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County leaders gave owners of short-term tourist rentals a reprieve Tuesday as officials revisit local regulations.

The Board of Supervisors agreed at a work session that property owners who filed applications for permits to rent their homes on a short-term basis can keep operating the tourist rentals for the time being. Several property owners who have been renting without permission from the county are awaiting approval of their permit applications.

County Zoning Administrator Erick Moore recently notified more than a half dozen property owners that they needed to stop renting their homes if they lacked the required permits to do so. Operating short-term tourist rentals without a permit violates the county zoning ordinance governing such a use of property.

Board Chairman Daniel Murray Jr. asked what the county could do to help owners with renters on the books and let them operate at least through the Festival of Leaves in the fall. Murray said he's received calls from concerned renters who had to cancel reservations.

"You know there's people that have commitments where they've already have contracts or agreements to rent their properties and it's awful short time to tell someone 'no, you can't have a vacation,'" Murray said.

Murray suggested that the county delay action on the ordinance and allow owners to rent properties to tourists through the fall as long as they pay the lodging tax collected from tenants and obtain the necessary business licenses.

Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said owners can't obtain business licenses until they receive a permit. Whitten said that owners in the process of seeking the permits can pre-register their business and begin collecting the taxes.

County Administrator Doug Stanley said the board could allow the rental owners to continue running their businesses until supervisors take action on permits. Anyone whose permit application has been denied by supervisors should not be renting anyway, Stanley said.

Stanley advised supervisors that they have several options available to deal with short-term tourist rentals. The board can act on the applications as they come up for consideration or table any requests. Stanley pointed out that the board also has power beyond approving the conditional-use permits -- it can revoke permits if a recipient violates any of the conditions set by the county.

Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard Traczyk said he needed answers to lingering questions about the matter.

"There's arguments on both sides," Traczyk said. "Both of them are legitimate."

Traczyk echoed Murray's concerns, noting that Labor Day weekend also is a busy time for the rental businesses.

Many communities have dropped ordinances regulating short-term tourist rentals and allow such a use without a permit, Traczyk said. Planning Director Taryn Logan told the board her department is researching how other counties handle rentals. The question remains how the county handles the pending permit applications.

The county plans to hold public hearings on three permit applications at the supervisors' Aug. 19 meeting. The county has five applications at the Planning Commission level.

Traczyk said in some cases people moved into subdivisions and did not expect a neighboring home to serve as a short-term tourist rental. Constituents have complained that some rentals have turned into "frat parties," Traczyk said.

Opponents of short-term rentals have told county officials the traffic from such operations harms the neighborhood roads. Traczyk said he disagreed with that claim, saying that people staying at a house for a short time likely cause less damage to the roads with their vehicles than permanent residents who drive the routes every day.

On the other hand, Traczyk said he sees a positive impact the rentals can have on local tourism and that many renters are families that don't turn into large gatherings.

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

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