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Warren County Board of Supervisors approve occupancy ordinance amendment amid public resistance

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL – Despite public criticism during last Tuesday night's hearing, the Warren County Board of Supervisors voted to approve restricting maximum occupancy to 12 people in the county's short term tourist rentals. This followed an earlier vote by the board to schedule another public hearing to discuss a maximum occupancy of eight people.

The hearing came after heavy discussion stemming from an October incident in which the zoning administrator determined that eight properties within the county were being operated as short term tourist rentals since the properties were being rented out for 30 days or less.

The board of zoning appeals overturned the determination, stating that the zoning ordinance was unclear regarding short term rentals. The issue was sent to the planning commission, which proposed that short term tourist rentals be allowed by-right in the agricultural district on lots of more than five acres and conditionally on lots of five acres or less. In the residential district, the commission proposed that short term tourist rentals only be allowed conditionally.

Pending permit approval by the Warren County Health Department, the commission proposed a 12-person maximum occupancy in all short term tourist rentals. The board voted 5-0 to approve on the motion by board member Tony Carter.

At the hearing, Martha Buracker of Buracker Construction spoke against the proposed regulations.

“On a personal level, most of the houses that we build are people coming up on weekends, for vacation or for retirement,” she said. “I became an accidental vacation home owner when the housing market tanked and couldn't sell it for $4,000 mortgage payments. We started renting it as a vacation home and have thoroughly enjoyed the people who stay at our place.”

Buracker says vacation rentals are very important to the economy and county and if regulations are made, then they should be imposed on ordinary residential properties as well.

“I feel that regulation of vacation homes is selective prosecution for people who use them instead of regular homes,” she said, adding that vacation homes don't even use the septic field as often as regular residential rentals. “The tourism industry is important. I've only ever had one incident in three years. I just don't see it as a problem.”

Daryl Funk spoke on behalf of clients whose home, he said, has been affected by short term tourist rentals.

“Imagine, if you will, having a party house near you with the party constantly refreshing,” he said. “My clients have experienced noise, traffic and even gunfire. They are not thrilled with allowing this.

Funk said to protect landowners, the amendment should limit the occupancy to 8 or “maybe 4.”

In response to the second vote, Buracker said she would've liked to see all the vacation rentals in the agricultural district be “by-right,” instead of conditional based on the size of the lots.

“As all who had a stake in the outcome had left, I am a little concerned that this was revisited and voted on,” she said. “The residential zoning district, I can see the concern, but the same concern would apply to any renter whether it's a weekend or yearly rental. You could get the occasional bad neighbor, but at least with the vacation rentals they are only there and then gone.”

Doug Stanley, county administrator, says even though the 12-person occupancy limit has been approved, the true occupancy limit will ultimately be dictated by the capabilities of each property's specific septic system and the Warren County Health Department.

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