Warren County board delays action on tourist rentals

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County leaders put a batch of tourist-rental permit requests on hold Tuesday after one drew fire from neighbors.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 at its regular meeting to table a request by Keith and Kimberly Hartke for a conditional-use permit to run a short-term tourist rental at 319 Windy Way, in the High Knob subdivision.

Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony Carter voted against tabling the matter after making a motion to deny the request. High Knob subdivision, a gated community, is in Carter’s district. The Planning Commission already has recommended the board deny the permit.

Carter said he didn’t believe short-term tourist rentals would be “harmonious” with the neighborhood. He noted that the board previously denied a permit request for a rental in another gated community. Carter added that people who move into such communities do so with some expectations.

“The roads can be an issue, with the steepness and unfamiliarity with it,” Carter said. “Noise, obviously, is another potential problem. Also, unfamiliarity with the guests, perhaps with the wildlife that they have to contend with.”

Shenandoah District Richard Traczyk said it appeared that the board approved or denied such permits in an “arbitrary and capricious” way.

“I don’t feel as though we have enough structure in our ordinance to determine yes or no … right now what we’re basing it on is how many people show up at a public hearing,” Traczyk said. “I think property rights need to be looked at.”

Carter disagreed with Traczyk, saying that the board takes each permit on its individual merit when deciding to approve or deny requests. Carter said he understood from the board’s last work session that they would take action on the requests under consideration.

At the board’s direction, the Planning Commission plans to review the ordinance that allows for rentals in certain districts. Planning Director Taryn Logan told the board she expects the commission to hold a work session later this month and could come up with a recommendation that would go to a public hearing in September.

Property owners can continue to rent their homes while county officials review the ordinance and come up with a recommendation.

During a public hearing on the request on Tuesday, Keith Hartke explained the reasons he and his wife bought the property in 2013, refurbished the home and wanted to rent it to tourists. Hartke told the board that two attorneys told him and his wife they could use the property for short-term rentals. The attorneys pointed out then that the cabin was not in a homeowners association, though High Knob does have a “loose confederation” of covenants. Hartke said the cabin, as a short-term rental, does not violate the covenants.

Hartke said he and his wife tried to reach out to other High Knob residents. But opponents of the permit request said the Hartkes did not consult with any of the neighbors and began to rent the property soon after they bought it. Other speakers claimed that large groups of people have been seen at the house and that on occasion, renters have made large fire pits on the property.

Many speakers said they were concerned that short-term tourist rentals would disturb the community by bringing more traffic on its rural roads. Some speakers voiced concern that the rental property would attract undesirable tenants from around the world, including sex offenders.

High Knob residents Joe and Gretchen Anderson spoke in support of the permit request. Joe Anderson said that aside from one speaker, the rest of the people who opposed the request do not live near the Hartke’s property. He said a registered sex offender already lives in High Knob.

The board held hearings on two other requests for short-term tourist rental permits. Supervisors voted 5-0 to table these requests for the same reasons Traczyk gave in delaying action on the Hartke matter.

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