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Digging into Charlotte's unified development ordinance: New rules around Airbnb rentals

Taylor Heery

Charlotte’s proposed unified development ordinance is the part of the city's 2040 plan that puts new regulations in place to guide future growth.

WFAE went through the 608-page document and found a couple of things that caught our eye that we wanted to know more about. One item is the proposed set of new rules for short-term home or dwelling rentals, such as Airbnbs.

Charlotte interim planning director Alyson Craig and city planner Kevin May, spoke with "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry about the UDO and how it would affect these dwellings.

Marshall Terry: What is it about Airbnbs in Charlotte that prompted the planning department to address them in the new ordinance?

Alyson Craig: Short-term rentals, as we call them in the ordinance, lack clarity in today's regulations, and we've heard concerns from the community about oversaturation of the units in the city, concerns with parties and events, as well as noise, trash concerns and then just overall parking. And so wanted to provide clarity in the ordinance, both to the operators of short-term rentals, as well as to community members where these units might be located.

Terry: Do you know how many Airbnbs are currently operating in Charlotte?

Craig: We don't have a specific number. I think we've estimated that there are more than 3,000, but some of the regulations that we're proposing will help us really be able to identify exactly how many are in our community.

Terry: What are the biggest changes that Airbnb owners in Charlotte would see if the UDO is passed?

Kevin May: It would be the requirement for a zoning use permit for the operation. And really, that's something that's a tool that would enable us to get a better idea of the size and scope of this use throughout the city. Another one is the potential, as currently proposed, for a 400 separation distance or buffer.

Terry: That's 400 feet, right?

May: That is 400 feet. And that is something that has been a topic of great conversation through our public engagement and the public comments that we've received, as well as feedback from council.

Terry: What's behind the 400-feet provision, is that what Alyson was saying as far as oversaturation?

May: Correct — oversaturation being a concern. And certainly the intent of the 400-foot separation buffer is just to try to maintain the — best as possible — residential characters of established neighborhoods and not letting them potentially turn into something where there's a lot of turnover that may be very disruptive to longtime residents in that area.

Terry: What happens if there are two Airbnbs within 400 feet of each other already, or an Airbnb within 400 feet of a bed and breakfast or rooming house? Will they be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to operate as is?

May: That's still a topic under discussion. Staff is working on how to address that going forward. I just don't think that we're quite there yet to provide that guidance.

Terry: And one of the complaints you've heard is about parties and large gatherings and noise complaints. So is that the reason for the potential changes as far as not allowing parties and large gatherings at Airbnbs?

Craig: Yes. Of course, you could have homes that are in the neighborhood to have parties, and so it's not that that can't ever occur in a neighborhood. But just wanting to recognize that these properties are often rented for people that are short-term visiting, maybe experiencing a vacation, maybe for groups of individuals that are vacationing and that they can lend themselves to that type of environment. And so wanting just to ensure the community that those types of events would not be allowed under these particular provisions for short-term rentals.

Terry: Another one of the things that you mentioned is that you've heard people complaining about parking regarding Airbnbs. How so?

Craig: Often you have additional people that are renting the Airbnb with you, and so sometimes it’s a problem, sometimes it's not. But in the provisions that we would require one parking space per room that's rented is just to ensure that there's not spillover into the street that may create some challenges.

Terry: What feedback have you received from Airbnb owners and Bed and Breakfast owners about the proposals that are in the UDO?

Craig: We held two listening sessions on this particular topic, and we heard from a number of operators that described a situation that would seem to be quite common. It’s that there were individuals that were retired and that they rented out Airbnbs for supplemental income, and some of these regulations could really create challenges just for them being able to pay their bills.

Also heard from some operators that felt as though we are creating regulations that create challenges for many people when there may be a small subset of operators that may be breaking some of these rules or not really providing best practices for this type of rental.

The spacing requirements — clearly that doesn't work for multi-unit buildings and for duplexes and triplexes. We've learned very early on in the UDO comment period that the spacing requirement would certainly have to be looked at.

Terry: The Charlotte City Council is not scheduled to vote on the UDO until this summer. So could these proposals change before then?

Craig: Oh, absolutely. We closed the comment portal for the UDO, and we are reviewing the more than 700 comments that we received on the UDO now. We’re working on preparing responses. Some comments have already been responded to.

Some, like short-term rentals, require additional discussion, and we don't have responses yet because we're still sorting through the different feedback that we've gotten. But ultimately, yes, I'm sure there will be some revisions to the short-term rental regulations in the next draft of the UDO, which we expect to be out in mid-to-late May.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.