NEAR THE POTOMAC – Butch Deal has been hosting overnight visitors in Jefferson County for eight years. He’s among the approximately 180 or so homeowners, he points out, participating in the short-term rental market for tourists.

Those Airbnb-style entrepreneurs have included young people offering occasional stay-overs in second apartment bedrooms to pay their monthly rents, Deal said.

Those folks, he said, include retired couples opening their backyard in-law suites over long weekends to supplement retirement incomes. They include people like himself who renovate a historic home and a small “shack” near Shepherdstown as part of small business ventures competing to provide a sought-after service.

“Tourism is the largest county industry,” he said. “Especially now with COVID — it’s extremely popular to have a whole-home-type rental.”

Deal pointed out that a converted bus, a couple of yurts and a treehouse are all part of the burgeoning, internet-fueled hospitality industry of local home rentals.

“There’s lots of Airbnbs and short-term rentals … on several different [online] platforms all over the county,” he said. “Some have been there a decade or more.”

Then there’s Wendy Lochner, a homeowner in the residential enclave McShanes Landing along the Potomac River north of Harpers Ferry. Five of the 15 houses in her scrunched-in-a-row community have turned into short-term rentals full-time, she said.

Lochner said she and her neighbors have suffered loud lawn parties. They said they have endured muddy trespassings over private boat docks, chases by visitors’ unleashed dogs and driveways that become packed parking lots.

In apparent frustration, somebody in the neighborhood posted a banner darkly warning visiting renters, “Be Advised. This is a Private Residential Community and You Are NOT WELCOME.”

“This is about the quality of life in Jefferson County,” she said during a community meeting with about 40 of her neighbors to discuss the matter. “We really have to slow this train down. We’re a close community, really close community. So we really want to protect it.”

Deal and Lochner agree the county’s zoning ordinances should be updated and clarified to address the relatively new but well-established reality of short-term home rentals. But the two differ on what a proposed ordinance revision being drafted should say and do.

Deal said the current zoning code is unclear — and contradictory in some places — in addressing the leasing and rentals of “dwellings.” Any zoning ordinance revision, he said, should simply let the short-term rentals and their economic benefits continue.

“My hope is that it would be made clear and not be restrictive to the point where people have to shut down or limit the number of rentals they can do,” he said. “And hopefully, eliminate the harassment that a few are receiving.”

Citing unsettling numbers of “strangers” staying in her neighborhood, Lockner and several of her neighbors hope to impose clear restrictions on short-term home rentals, particularly those in rural and residential property zones.

In addition to requiring short-term rentals to register with the county, their restrictions would include capping properties to 180 days of rentals a year; limiting the number of people in a rental unit to six; and allowing rentals only in a homeowner’s primary residence. They would also include requiring health and safety inspections and allowing rental properties to operate no closer than 1,000 feet to another.

“We’re not saying no to Airbnbs,” explained Christina Rife, a neighbor in the same riverside community. “We’re saying we want balance within the county.”

Rife and Lochner helped form an issue group and website under the name Neighbors4Neighborhoods.

Under the county’s current zoning ordinance, short-term rental properties are not defined. Instead, the section refers to a “dwelling unit,” where the ordinance states such “owner occupancy” properties can be rented or leased “on a weekly, monthly or longer basis.” That section also states that such dwellings can be “occupied by no more than one family.”

County zoning administrators interpret the ordinance to mean that vacationers can be booked into short-term rentals for no more than a week. Those administrators also interpret the ordinance to indicate that no more than six unrelated family members can share a house rental. Still, families occupying a house could have more than six members.

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Stolipher, who serves on the county planning commission, made a motion, which was adopted last month asking zoning administrators to propose ordinance changes.

Stolipher acknowledged complaints from homeowners near the river about short-term rentals while also recognizing Jefferson County’s tourism revenues lead those of any other West Virginia county. However, he also signaled his view for upholding property rights on both sides. “At the end of the day, the folks who are renting their properties, they have a right to rent their properties,” he said, “and the people who live there full time, they have a right to protect their property and not have anybody trespass on their property.”

The planning commission will hold a public hearing on whatever draft is prepared and then make a recommendation to the county commission.

Deal, who helps other property owners operate on Airbnb, said no property owner wants to have his customer disrupt a neighborhood.

He pointed out how Airbnb and other market-making platforms have powerful incentives and strict rules that ensure property owners and renters behave well. To continue exchanges with others, no host wants bad reviews from renters, and no renter wants a poor review from a host, he said. And no host or prospective renter wants to be barred from a platform.

And that includes respecting the neighbors and communities where short-term rental properties operate, Deal explained. “My neighbors know me and they have my cell number, so if there’s any problem that I haven’t caught, they can text me,” he said. “My goal is to never have them do that.”

However, residents of McShanes Landing say they fear an onrush of short-term visitors will undermine the safe, close-knit character of their rural, out-of-the-way haven.

“Our homes, our neighborhoods—this is where we leave our legacy,” Lochner offered. “We are going to be attending a lot of meetings.”

“This is about the quality of life in Jefferson County,” she said during a community meeting with about 40 of her neighbors to discuss the matter. “We really have to slow this train down. We’re a close community, really close community. So we really want to protect it.”

Deal and Lochner agree the county’s zoning ordinances should be updated and clarified to address the relatively new but well-established reality of short-term home rentals. But the two differ on what a proposed ordinance revision being drafted should say and do.

Deal said the current zoning code is unclear — and contradictory in some places — in addressing the leasing and rentals of “dwellings.” Any zoning ordinance revision, he said, should simply let the short-term rentals and their economic benefits continue.

“My hope is that it would be made clear and not be restrictive to the point where people have to shut down or limit the number of rentals they can do,” he said. “And hopefully, eliminate the harassment that a few are receiving.”

Citing unsettling numbers of “strangers” staying in her neighborhood, Lockner and several of her neighbors hope to impose clear restrictions on short-term home rentals, particularly those in rural and residential property zones.

In addition to requiring short-term rentals to register with the county, their restrictions would include capping properties to 180 days of rentals a year; limiting the number of people in a rental unit to six; and allowing rentals only in a homeowner’s primary residence. They would also include requiring health and safety inspections and allowing rental properties to operate no closer than 1,000 feet to another.

“We’re not saying no to Airbnbs,” explained Christina Rife, a neighbor in the same riverside community. “We’re saying we want balance within the county.”

Rife and Lochner helped form an issue group and website under the name Neighbors4Neighborhoods.

Under the county’s current zoning ordinance, short-term rental properties are not defined. Instead, the section refers to a “dwelling unit,” where the ordinance states such “owner occupancy” properties can be rented or leased “on a weekly, monthly or longer basis.” That section also states that such dwellings can be “occupied by no more than one family.”

County zoning administrators interpret the ordinance to mean that vacationers can be booked into short-term rentals for no more than a week. Those administrators also interpret the ordinance to indicate that no more than six unrelated family members can share a house rental. Still, families occupying a house could have more than six members.

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Stolipher, who serves on the county planning commission, made a motion, which was adopted last month asking zoning administrators to propose ordinance changes.

Stolipher acknowledged complaints from homeowners near the river about short-term rentals while also recognizing Jefferson County’s tourism revenues lead those of any other West Virginia county. However, he also signaled his view for upholding property rights on both sides. “At the end of the day, the folks who are renting their properties, they have a right to rent their properties,” he said, “and the people who live there full time, they have a right to protect their property and not have anybody trespass on their property.”

The planning commission will hold a public hearing on whatever draft is prepared and then make a recommendation to the county commission.

Deal, who helps other property owners operate on Airbnb, said no property owner wants to have his customer disrupt a neighborhood.

He pointed out how Airbnb and other market-making platforms have powerful incentives and strict rules that ensure property owners and renters behave well. To continue exchanges with others, no host wants bad reviews from renters, and no renter wants a poor review from a host, he said. And no host or prospective renter wants to be barred from a platform.

And that includes respecting the neighbors and communities where short-term rental properties operate, Deal explained. “My neighbors know me and they have my cell number, so if there’s any problem that I haven’t caught, they can text me,” he said. “My goal is to never have them do that.”

However, residents of McShanes Landing say they fear an onrush of short-term visitors will undermine the safe, close-knit character of their rural, out-of-the-way haven.

“Our homes, our neighborhoods—this is where we leave our legacy,” Lochner offered. “We are going to be attending a lot of meetings.”

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