Tybee Island’s city council on Thursday advanced a short-term vacation rental (STVR) ordinance that outlines an occupancy rate and a possible cap on rental properties in residential neighborhoods.
Council is expected to vote on the ordinance at its next meeting on Nov. 10. Thursday marked the first reading of the proposed law, and council rules require two readings before an ordinance can be approved or denied.
The measure advanced Thursday only after a prolonged debate. Council members Nancy DeVetter, Monty Parks and Barry Brown approved the motion to advance the ordinance while John Brannigan and Michael “Spec” Hosti opposed. Jay Burke was not present at the meeting as he was not feeling well.
The ordinance calls for restrictions on STVRs, an increasingly polarizing issue with residents. The proposed occupancy rate is two adults per bedroom plus another two individuals for the whole rental dwelling.
The city has yet to establish whether or not the number of children needs to be regulated as well. Tybee previously did not have an ordinance regulating occupancy.
The proposed ordinance also places a cap on the number of STVR properties within residential zoning districts to 760, or about 37% of total properties in that area. That reflects the current number of permitted rentals in those districts.
City manager Shawn Gillen said that about 500 of those STVR properties were active, according to Host Compliance, a system the city uses to analyze rental advertisements online.
The ordinance says that the limitation on the number of permitted STVRs will be eliminated, however, if no further council action is taken before June 15, 2022.
Whether or not buyers of existing STVR properties would be able to apply and receive a permit even when that cap is reached is a detail Gillen said he still needs to clarify with the city attorney.
Council’s discussion ultimately leaned towards not issuing additional permits over the 760 cap.
“I believe if we allow transfers, we’re always going to have the same number (of STVRs),” said DeVetter.
Tybee Island’s permanent residents urged council to pass the regulations, though some believed the cap on the number of vacation properties is still too high.
Representatives from Realtor groups and vacation rental companies implored council members not to rush decisions and to spend the rest of the moratorium on STVR permits conducting more research on tourism’s impact on the island.
The city’s 90-day moratorium on issuing permits expires towards the end of November.
“Getting the intentions into a legal wording in a document is extraordinarily challenging,” said Gillen. “You’re seeing the messiness of the process. Doing it in public I think is better than doing it behind closed doors.”
Other points of clarification include establishing a waiting list system for STVR permit applicants and creating a compassionate clause that would give permit preference to certain longtime property owners on the island.
Another draft of the ordinance for the second reading will be available next week, said Gillen.
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.