By Carol Vaughn
Parksley officials voted to move forward with allowing short-term residential rentals, also called homestay businesses, in town, with details to be worked out later.
Councilman Henry Nicholson made the motion to allow short-term rental businesses and to require a permit rather than charging a transient occupancy tax. Councilman Ricky Taylor seconded the motion. The unanimous vote happened in Monday’s Town Council meeting, after a public hearing was held earlier in the evening.
Mayor Frank Russell said originally he “was completely against Airbnbs,” but said he has seen properties renovated in other localities because income from renting them as Airbnbs helped pay for the restoration.
Speakers at the hearing included Brittany Russell, a Parksley resident and a real estate agent, who said she favors passing “some sort of regulation that Parksley can allow Airbnbs.”
Short-term rental properties “are a huge driving force in our economic development on the Shore right now,” she said.
If council members decide to allow short-term rentals in only certain parts of town, Russell noted Wachapreague officials recently decided to allow them in that town’s commercial district.
“If nothing else, that could be a great starting, jumping-off, point for the Airbnbs in town,” she said.
Speakers also asked about regulating how many short-term rentals would be allowed, on how many streets — and about sizes and parking regulations.
Mark Layne asked how often the businesses would be inspected.
Betty Farley said she lives next door to the only Airbnb listed in Parksley, noting there are problems with the building, including that one of the three doors is hammered shut. Still, she said she has never had a problem with guests who stayed at the property.
“I am in favor of Airbnbs with regulations. I don’t want to see a block of Airbnbs in my neighborhood,” she said.
Council members then voiced their opinions.
Councilman Sam Welch said, “I think it’s a good way for people to improve their property and make a few bucks.”
Councilwoman Jan Welch said she is not against allowing the businesses but said regulating them would be key.
Councilman Henry Nicholson said he sees “both sides of the coin.”
“I’m in Airbnbs that are fine and decorated like a magazine. I’ve been in other Airbnbs I wouldn’t walk in,” he said.
Nicholson said he spoke with several people who take care of Airbnbs.
“They tend not to have the problems with the $200-a-night ones, but the $58 ones that are next to Cape Charles — a lot of problems. That’s the only hindrance I have. As a resident, I want neighbors,” he said, but added he understands the investment aspect, noting, “And you would want more investors in town.”
Nicholson agreed with Brittany Russell’s comment about allowing Airbnbs in the commercial district.
“We’ve got old hotels sitting here. We’ve got the shirt factory. We’ve got buildings down this front street that there’s some fine line on whether you can have an apartment upstairs or not,” he said, adding, “… I think that’s where the investment should start.”
He said likely one person alone would not turn the former shirt factory into a short-term rental business, but said “an investment group might see some potential there.”
Nicholson favored charging a yearly permit fee instead of collecting transient occupancy taxes on short-term rentals.
“Then if we’ve had some problems with Airbnb X, then you don’t renew the permit,” he said.
Councilwoman Carol Matthews said she is “all for Airbnbs” but understands Nicholson’s comment about wanting “neighbors rather than rentals.”
She said she likes the Wachapreague model, noting Onancock has “so many regulations” for the businesses.
Councilman Dan Matthews also said he is in favor of allowing short-term rentals.
Mayor Russell said if residents had spoken against allowing short-term rentals at all, the council likely would not move forward, but added, “I haven’t heard that. I think that cautious enthusiasm might be the point that I’m getting from the crowd.”