The following article was written by David Dalessio and was published in this month’s CBES Shoreline magazine. Mr. Dalessio accurately describes the growing pains, and abusive nature of the tourist trade that is fundamentally changing the character of not just Cape Charles, but the entire Eastern Shore.
The lower Eastern Shore is increasingly a seasonal destination for vacationers. To accommodate these guests, Northampton County has encouraged the establishment of short-term rentals by allowing any and every property owner in the County to turn their residence into a short-term (1 to 30 days) rental “by-right.” The zoning application for this use does not require a property owner or the County to notify neighbors of this change in residential usage, nor does it require a public hearing. Consequently, neighbors have no say in regulating the density of such rentals in their community. The operational regulation of these rentals does not yet exist. Often, the rental owner does not live on the property and may hire an outside manager to oversee the rental.
The zoning application for this use does not require a property owner or the County to notify neighbors of this change in residential usage, nor does it require a public hearing. Consequently, neighbors have no say in regulating the density of such rentals in their community. The operational regulation of these rentals does not yet exist. Often, the rental owner does not live on the property and may hire an outside manager to oversee the rental. There has recently been a marked increase in applications for short-term
The county benefits from this arrangement by collecting occupancy taxes on such rentals. According to
Northampton County finance director John Chandler, transient occupancy tax is expected to reach $600,000 in Fiscal Year 2023. In comparison, 20 million dollars of local revenue is expected to be generated through Northampton County property taxes.
The revenue benefit of short-term rentals is not without risk – if those who pay general property taxes are
harmed in the process. Furthermore, such rentals decrease the incentive to build badly needed additional housing for a more permanent workforce on the Shore.
The one-size-fits-all approach to permitting short-term rentals by right needs to be re-evaluated by the County, especially for historically residential communities such as Hungars Beach. As a resident of Hungars Beach, I shared my own experience, and others expressed theirs, through letters to and attendance at the March 2022 meeting of the Northampton Planning Commission.
Hungars Beach is a traditional single-family residential subdivision created in 1965. All residents have ingress and egress to their property on a private road, paid for and maintained through annual road association dues. However, due to a permitted short-term rental, the County has usurped our right to own and regulate our private road by allowing its public use by guests of the short-term rental.
Residents report feeling that this use has invaded their privacy, eroded their sense of safety, and increased their liability should an accident or injury occur. The owner of the rental reaps the profit and those adjacent suffer the consequences. Often, guests are unfamiliar with regulations protecting the Chesapeake Bay, and are unfamiliar with the measures taken by owners to prevent erosion of their property.
Despite signage “private no trespassing” and “no beach access,” guests of the rental frequently do trespass. Personally, I have witnessed guests walking on my breakwater, cocktail in hand, to watch the sunset. Other residents have reported seeing rental guests, seeking to enjoy the sunset, sitting on their
beaches and sometimes on the decks of owners currently not present.
I and other residents of Hungars Beach respectfully ask that the Board of Supervisors re-examine the current “by-right” ordinance in terms of its fairness and equity, to ensure that all tax-paying property owners have a voice at the table.
We offer the following suggestions:
• We recommend to the Board of Supervisors that an application for a short-term rental require a Special
Use Permit, including notification to those affected, and a hearing.
• The license for a short-term rental should be limited to intervals of 3 to 5 years, thereby allowing for
review of its occupancy-tax compliance and its “good neighbor” standing.
• The short-term rental should be the primary residence of the owner to ensure the owner’s ongoing commitment to the community where it is located.
• Only one short-term rental permit “by-right” ordinance in terms of its fairness and equity, to ensure that all tax-paying property owners have a voice at the table.
Only one short-term rental permit per owner should be allowed, to prevent a single individual or an LLC from buying up a residential neighborhood and turning it into a rental community.
• The ordinance should provide clear definitions of noise, light, and traffic impact.
• The ordinance should provide an enforceable mechanism to address complaints habitually ignored by the owner.