GEORGETOWN — Georgetown officials want more short-term vacation rentals in the city but not at the expense of longtime residents and property owners.
Rentals such as Airbnbs and Vrbos could soon face additional regulations in the state’s third-oldest city, although a proposed cap of 250 short-term vacation rentals has yet to receive final approval from city leaders.
Georgetown City Council on Dec. 21 postponed a second vote on the cap as well as other proposed regulations, including an application and permitting process. Although that plan had unanimously passed a first vote a month earlier, city officials said they want to hold a workshop to discuss the idea further.
City ordinances already define short-term rentals, but Georgetown leaders have never outlined which areas can offer this type of activity.
Zoning Administrator Peter Gaytan previously said that he discovered the problem when he went through applicable laws while researching whether a River Road home could be used as a short-term rental. He said the city never mapped out where they are allowed to operate.
Under the latest proposal, a property owner would be required to obtain a short-term vacation rental permit on an annual basis no later than May 1. There would be an initial application fee of $500 for whole-house rentals as well as accessory dwelling units and $250 for owner-occupied homes.
The applications would be required to be submitted annually with a renewal fee of $250. The fees would be subject to change during the city’s budget process. Property owners would also have to obtain a business license and submit a parking plan with their application.
Some real estate leaders worry about the move’s impact on property rights, particularly with the proposed cap of 250 short-term rentals.
“I realize the ordinance is written with the intent and the mindset that you currently have about less than or about 100 short-term vacation rentals in the city,” said Madison Cooper, senior vice president of government affairs and community relations for the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors. “But in reality, no one really knows how many there are.”
Cooper asked the council that an amendment be considered to add language so that when the 250-rental cap is met, city staff would automatically be required to bring the ordinance back to the council within 30 days to consider raising the limit.
“I can go back and add that language to come back to city council,” said Gaytan, who estimated there currently may be between 60-100 short-term rentals in the city. “I kind of wanted to wait to actually get this into the books to create that database to see where we are at. I put that 250-cap thinking that we wouldn’t meet that.”
One of the issues brought up during the council meeting was the proposed requirement that a short-term vacation rental applicant notify their adjacent neighbors of their intention to operate. Cooper suggested that it could be done through certified mail.
“If it’s my house and I short-term rental (it), I see no reason that I should have to notify my neighbors as long as I’m doing what I need to do and I’m doing it lawfully,” Mayor Carol Jayroe said.
Councilman Jim Clements countered that there would be issues created if there was a disturbance at a home and the neighbor did not know that it was a short-term rental.
“They (owners) can do what they want, but if there is not going to be anyone living in that house on a regular basis to develop some relationship with, then I think the adjacent neighbors are disadvantaged and we are going to have to rely on our public authorities, which is an additional cost, and we haven’t even been compensated by these (rentals) to date from what I understand,” Clements said.
A second issue that came up during the December meeting was the fear that if the majority of the short-term rentals end up in one section of the city, it could disproportionately affect one community. Officials hope to spread the rentals out evenly across the city, so they plan to hold a workshop in January or February to discuss the issues in depth.
“We need to make sure it’s clean and precise because there will be kickback if we don’t define that specifically now,” councilman Jonathan Angner said.