By Stefanie Jackson – Earlier this month, in a rare move for a Northampton County board member or commissioner, the Northampton planning commission’s acting chair, Glen Anders, singled out one citizen and asked him for a written copy of his personal recommendations on a matter of interest to county officials.
Ken Dufty, of Wardtown, had just finished speaking during the public comment period of the planning commission’s June 7 meeting, in which he requested a 90-day moratorium – a legally authorized suspension – of applications for new short-term rentals.
The request for the 90-day moratorium was to allow the Northampton board of supervisors time to adopt “meaningful regulations” for the county’s short-term rental industry.
Dufty had requested a 90-day moratorium on short-term rentals earlier this year, but the board of supervisors agreed not to take action before the release of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission’s recent housing study, which was expected to address the short-term rental issue.
However, the housing study said little about short-term rentals other than acknowledging that the prevalence of vacation homes and short-term rentals, like Airbnb, constrain the housing supply for year-round residents.
Calling a short-term rental a vacant home “is rightfully so because it is not available for long term rentals including affordable and workforce housing,” he explained.
According to Northampton’s comprehensive plan, about 30% of the county’s vacant homes are short-term rentals, Dufty said.
The A-NPDC housing study revealed the Eastern Shore has more than 10,000 vacant homes, and only 5% are available for long-term rental, he added.
Dufty listed nine recommendations on short-term rentals for the planning commission’s consideration:
• Recommend that the board of supervisors declare a 90-day moratorium on new short-term rentals (outside incorporated towns) until regulations are implemented.
• Create an overlay district where short-term rentals would fit into the character of the existing community.
• Require conditional or special-use permits to use homes as short-term rentals, which currently are allowed in Northampton County by right. The permitting process would allow neighbors to cooperate with homeowners and regulators and agree upon conditions that would preserve the quality of life in the neighborhood.
• Require major special-use permits for short-term rentals in all agricultural zoning districts, including agricultural-rural business.
• Limit the use of accessory dwellings as short-term rentals to no more than 30 days a year, particularly in agricultural zoning districts. “This prevents rural and otherwise pristine areas of the county … from becoming commercial motel districts,” Dufty wrote.
• Require homeowners to live in the residence at least 275 days a year to discourage people from buying homes only for use as vacation rentals, acting similarly to “absentee landlords” and running a “motel-like operation from a remote location.”
• Establish a minimum distance, such as 200 feet, between short-term rentals. The minimum distance may be greater, such as
• Require the provision of off-street parking for guests who bring more than two vehicles to the rental property.
• Establish enforceable “quiet times” overnight, from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., the following morning. Noise levels measured at the property line should not exceed 70 decibels at any time.
Dufty’s recommendations were offered as a “reasonable and balanced starting point for a constructive approach to ensuring that we retain our rural nature and quality of life while simultaneously protecting our limited housing supply from becoming off limits to those who live, work, and love Northampton County,” he wrote.
He continued, “At the same time, I recognize and respect the fact that we also need and want to serve and support the vibrant tourist industry which is a vital part of our regional and local economy.”