Short-term rentals draw speakers at crowded Cape Charles listening session

EASTERN SHORE POST/JIM RITCH Ahren Foster, a Richmond resident who sometimes uses her home in Cape Charles as a short-term rental, said, “Community is not lost because I rent my home.”

BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

Cape Charles should place a temporary moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals until the town approves regulations to govern them, several speakers said Monday, April 29, at a town council listening session.

Some speakers said the town’s zoning ordinance already prohibits short-term rentals because the ordinance makes no mention of the rentals among allowed or conditional uses.

However, other speakers — including a number from the town’s business community — attributed Cape Charles’ current prosperity to the short-term rentals, in which residential homes are booked for a vacation stay.

They recommended the town manage the inconveniences caused by its hundreds of short-term rentals — loud nighttime backyard events, reckless golf cart use, and a dearth of street parking caused by vacationers arriving in multiple vehicles — rather than limit them.

“The summer visitors are supporting our businesses,” said Laurie Klingel, a town resident and business owner.
She said those businesses, in turn, support the town and county in a variety of ways, from youth sports programs to high school proms.

It was part of a lively and lengthy discussion that stretched three hours, included dozens of speakers, and laid bare the fissures dividing a town that prides itself on its community closeness and promotes itself as a destination for happiness and hospitality.

Despite intense interest in the issue and a yard-sign campaign to limit short-term rentals, town officials did not adequately plan for the large crowd.

After its tiny civic center filled with roughly 110 people — 25 of whom had to stand — officials locked the building’s outside door, keeping several dozen from entering or speaking at a town hall designed to solicit public input.

The meeting was broadcast on the town’s Facebook page. In a remarkable scene, listeners made more than 250 comments in real time during the meeting.

“This is incredible,” said town manager John Hozey to the gathering. “This is the most people I’ve ever seen in this room.”

The people brought an array of views.

Some said short-term rentals eroded the town’s community camaraderie because the homes were seldom occupied during the offseason, led to unneighborly noise, and gobbled up available housing.

But that wasn’t everyone’s experience.

Ahren Foster, a Richmond resident, said she and her husband use their Cape Charles home as a short-term rental to help pay for it.

“We’ve been welcomed into our block by lovely people,” she said. “Community is not lost because I rent my home.”

“I’m having such a different experience,” she said, from those who have problems with short-term rentals.

The council took no action during the work session, but Hozey said he would get a legal opinion on whether short-term rentals currently violate town zoning rules.

Hozey also said the town had no rules on its books to curb or halt short-term rentals, which some speakers questioned.

Town resident Jim Metz said the town’s single-family residential, or R-1 district, restricts commercial activities. Other speakers said the zoning makes no mention of short-term rentals.

“Short term rentals are not a permitted or conditional use of property in zoning district R-1,” he said.

Added George Proto, a former town mayor, “Get an attorney’s opinion; let’s find out what’s going on here. Find out whether they’re legal.”

Liz Pruitt, a Cape Charles resident, said the community needs full-time residents.

During the proliferation of short-term rentals in Cape Charles, “the town has lost almost entirely its racial and economic diversity,” she said.

Moreover, “It’s just not easy to live next to someone’s summer vacation for four or five months of the year,” she said.

She called for a cap on the number of short-term rentals, saying, “We are at a saturation point.”

Hozey said all of the input will be considered.

“We’re not solving any problem tonight,” he said. “It’s our goal to understand the problems better tonight so we can move forward.”

Previous articleEastern Shore Post | May 3, 2024
Next articleEastville gives fired police chief $53K severance check