Several Asheville City Council members expressed an interest Tuesday in toughening regulations on short term rentals, most commonly done through sites such as Airbnb, across the city.
The issue came up as City Council discussed tweaks to zoning regulations along Haywood Road in West Asheville. One of the proposed changes would allow short term rentals, which had been banned since the zoning regulations were put in place three years ago, along a stretch of Haywood Road roughly between Beechum’s Curve to near the road’s intersection with Craven Street.
City Council members took up the discussion, they it soon broadened to a more general conversation about how to clamp down on Airbnb-type short term rentals across the city.
Councilman Cecil Bothwell kicked it off by asking if how City Council could keep the short term rental ban intact on Haywood Road, and even expand it. Council members agreed to kick the Haywood Road-specific issue of short term rental regulations back to a host of community organizations and the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission for more study.
But council members weren’t finished talking about STRs.
Councilman Gordon Smith told city staff that he and his colleagues are clearly concerned about skyrocketing short term rentals and their impact on neighborhoods, as well as the affordability of housing, so “as far as future zoning changes coming forward, the more heads-up we can get about lodging uses the better.”
Smith said there are “hundreds and hundreds” of short term rentals in Asheville, many of them illegal. (In general, whole-house short term rentals are allowed in city commercial districts with a permit, and not allowed in residential neighborhoods.) People operating illegally “don’t give a rip that it’s not legal,” Smith said, and they “don’t give a rip” about impacts on housing affordability.
“How do we get to zero on these illegal whole-house short term rentals,” Smith wanted to know.
Asheville City Council has increased fines for illegal short term rental operators to $500 a day within the past few years. The city has also contracted with an outside agency to track down illegal STRs to better enforce their rules. (Enforcement had been complaint-driven until then.) But tracking down illegal operators is difficult and tedious.
Smith added that he wanted a broader conversation about changing short term rental regulations in areas where they have previously been allowed. But he noted that’s “more complicated” because operators there have abided by rules.
Mayor Esther Manheimer asked for an enforcement update to come at City Council’s meeting on Oct. 24 to follow up on Smith’s request.
Councilman Keith Young said he wanted Asheville City Council to tackle the issue on a city-wide basis, rather than piecemeal, “so there’s some sort of blanket way to deal with it.” (Aside from the consideration of maintaining the STR ban along Haywood Road, City Council is also considering banning STRs in the city’s River Arts District.)
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler chimed in, saying that she wanted to revisit the new regulation City Council adopted earlier this year requiring any lodging facility with 21 or more guest rooms to come before them for approval. Wisler said several short term rental operators are working on ways to slip under that regulation.
“We need to recognize that and maybe relook” at the city’s rules, she said, and possibly consider doing away with the threshold altogether, thus requiring all lodging uses to come before the city for approval.
Councilwoman Julie Mayfield noted that she and fellow council members were concerned specifically with Airbnb-type short term rentals, not hostels or small hotels. “We’re not trying to make all lodging more diffucult,” she said.
Manheimer allowed members of the public to comment on the issue, and four people spoke. Three expressed support for some level of STR regulations, while one spoke generally in favor of short term rentals.