Front Royal could soon make it legal for property owners to rent out rooms and homes, most likely to tourists.
The Planning Commission discussed during a Wednesday work session the creation of a new set of rules for the town that would allow short-term rentals in all zoning districts.
Commissioners reached a consensus to schedule a public hearing for the proposed draft ordinance on short-term rentals. The commission could then gauge public opinion and either forward the proposed ordinance to the Town Council with a recommendation either for approval or denial, or continue to discuss the matter.
Director of Planning and Zoning Lauren Kopishke told commissioners that some property owners already operate short-term rentals in Front Royal in violation of the town zoning regulations. The department then issues violation notices for the illegal uses, in addition to the growing number of citations for breaking other town rules.
Commissioner Darryl Merchant went through a list of questions and concerns he had with the concept of short-term rentals. Merchant expressed concern about the town allowing rentals in all residential districts.
A popular wayfinding mobile application, Waze, directs travelers around Front Royal to other areas such as Luray, Kopishke said. Front Royal could attract more tourists looking for short-term rentals if the town allowed the use, Kopishke noted. Vice Chairwoman Connie Marshner said the town should reach into the market now to attract these tourists.
Commissioner Josh Ingram also voiced support, saying “this is where you’re going to draw crowds for the long weekends.”
Kopishke noted one of the town’s long-term visions and the Comprehensive Plan addresses the desire for tourism.
“If the goal of Front Royal is to be a tourist destination and we’re writing the Comp Plan ... over the next 20, 30 years, we’ve moved to make this place a place that people want to come to, we have to have a variety of lodging,” Kopishke said.
Merchant asked if the town wants that lodging option in residential areas. Marshner said she didn’t think the town has any choice. Merchant disagreed. Kopishke reminded commissioners that some subdivisions are governed by homeowners associations that have their own rules.
Kopishke pointed out that an ordinance for short-term rentals would make the commercial uses legal in Front Royal. Merchant raised a concern about addressing violations of town regulations by changing the code rather than enforcing the rules. Kopishke noted that her department already faces the challenge of handling violations of other town regulations, such as parking inoperative vehicles on public streets.
Operators of short-term rentals must obtain a business license and, apparently, even though the use is not yet legal, some property owners already have licenses and pay transient occupancy taxes to the town, according to Kopishke and Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett Jr. The attorney said the town Finance Department received a transient-occupancy tax payment from a rental host, but the department, citing federal regulations, would not disclose information about the property.
Some members also raised questions over the origin of the push to legalize short-term rentals. The commission can initiate work on a text amendment to the town ordinances, Sonnett said. The Town Council also has adopted resolutions requesting the commission consider text amendments and to forward recommendations to the council. In the case of short-term rental regulations, council members at a recent meeting adopted a motion asking the commission to look into regulations for short-term rentals. Council members directed Kopishke to draft a text amendment and present it to the commission.
Concerns have been raised in recent months over the relationship between the Planning Commission and the Town Council and the advisory committee’s role in planning and zoning decisions.
A draft of the proposed ordinance would establish short-term rentals as allowed in all zoning districts with an approved special-use permit. The town must hold public hearings on all special-use applications. The Planning Commission and the Town Council consider each permit application on a case-by-case basis. The commission forwards a recommendation for approval or denial to the council, whose members can approve or deny the application. The council may impose conditions with each permit as necessary to mitigate adverse effects to neighboring properties.
The town Department of Planning and Zoning would charge a $400 application fee. The department would not charge additional fees for staff inspections. Staff must inspect the property before the department issues a permit. Staff would perform additional inspections if a complaint is received.
The town would set the maximum number of occupants in a dwelling at two adults per bedroom up to 10 total. Parking for the rental would be restricted to driveways or other approved areas and prohibit vehicles in or along all rights-of-way and in yards.
The applicant must provide a property management plan to show how the owner would manage the rental and minimize the impact on neighboring properties. The owner must also provide the plan as part of a rental contract reached with a tenant. If the property lies in a subdivision governed by a homeowners association, the department must receive a recommendation of approval or disapproval from the organization to operate the rental.
The zoning administrator can revoke a permit at any time for failing to comply with approved conditions and/or the town’s supplemental regulations.
Chairman Douglas Jones, Vice Chairwoman Connie Marshner and commissioners William Gordan, Joshua Ingram and Darryl Merchant attended the work session.