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Short Term Rental Ordinance in Louisa County - Remix 2023

September 01, 2023 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By John Wayne – September 2023

The County is again working to put some form of ordinance in place to get a handle on Short Term Rentals (STR) in Louisa County. In the latest Lake Anna Civic Association (LACA) survey of our members, over 90% of respondents indicated that they support LACA working with local governments to implement ordinances to limit STRs to the capacity permitted in the VDH septic permit, and in the same survey by the same margin of support, LACA’s position to limit bedrooms in STRs only to those having proper egress along with appropriate safety equipment. LACA is on record as not opposing Short Term Rentals but desiring these stated practical limits for environmental and safety reasons.

The most recent conversations among the Commissioners have ranged from some suggesting that it should be the responsibility of HOAs and POAs to limit the practice in their neighborhoods, to discussions surrounding whether STR’s are legal to operate in R1 and R2 zoning under the current county code. I picked up on this last point with the Chairman of the Planning Commission, John Disosway.

Mr. Disosway explained to me that the current county code does not specifically address Short Term Rentals. This is because in Section 86-13, “Definitions”, of the Louisa County code there is a use called “short term tourist rental of dwelling” defined as “The rental of a dwelling for periods of 30 days or less”. Interestingly however, this specific use is not mentioned further in the code or used in the Use Matrix Table, Section 86-109, which defines what uses are permitted within each zoning designation, including R1 and R2 which constitutes most neighborhoods around the lake. He stated that “this is part of the confusion” and that “the proposed ordinance change attempts to resolve this by clarifying a short-term rental use and clearly specifying how it is allowed in zoning districts.”

This being true, it is an important detail as STR’s are not currently a by-right use of a house in a residential (R1 and R2) neighborhood in Louisa County. Further, it seems likely that if the “short term tourist rental of dwelling” were added to the Use Matrix Table as defined, it would be considered a commercial usage for R1 and R2, much like the “Bed and Breakfast” usage which is included in the commercial section of the Use Matrix Table, requiring a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).  How commercial uses are handled in the current code is particularly important and should guide the conversation and outcome going forward. The situation should encourage the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to fix this issue in the code by creating an ordinance that makes it legal. However, the ordinance must also stay true to the code and either require a CUP for this usage or implement limits on usage of houses in neighborhoods to occupancies that are compatible with R1 and R2 expected use. This can be accomplished by using what is already there, State defined occupancy levels that meet current building codes and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) septic system permitting levels.

One thing we know from experience is that when there is an issue with an STR in a neighborhood, more times than not it occurs when the house is grossly over occupied. The benefits of the suggested approach are multifold for all in the surrounding community, reducing the negative effects of overused septic systems, providing a safe environment for all who visit and spend the night in our County, and lessening the noise and waste created by large parties occupying a home in a residential neighborhood.

Adding STR’s as a legal use in R1 and R2 neighborhoods is a valid objective of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors but should only be accomplished with occupancy limits that protect citizens safety and the environment, while also keeping neighborhoods residential, as clearly intended in the current county code. If this common-sense approach cannot be agreed to by the Board, the answer should be to simply stick with and enforce the current code excluding this commercial endeavor in county residential neighborhoods altogether.

The Planning Commission has set a Public Hearing Date for September 14 at 7:00 pm. I encourage you to attend the meeting and let your opinion on this important issue be known to your elected and appointed officials.

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