ASHEVILLE – After hearing impassioned speeches from community members during a Jan. 22 public comment session on short-term rental regulations, Buncombe County Planning Department Director Nathan Pennington noted the difficulty of imposing regulations on the rental units, often referred to as Airbnb’s — the largest short-term rental business.
“I mean, this is one of the toughest things we’re going to look at,” Pennington said.
In December 2023, over 148,000 people stayed or made bookings in Buncombe County’s short-term vacation rentals — a 68% increase from December 2019, according to data from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.
The surge in short-term vacation rentals comes as Buncombe County searches for solutions to rising rent and dwindling housing stock — namely through considering the regulation of short-term vacation rentals.
Rafael Baptista, director of Buncombe County Department of Strategy and Innovation, said the county estimates there are some 6,000 short-term rentals in the county.
From available data, most of the whole-home rentals in the area are smaller.
“We also know that generally speaking, when I’m talking about whole-house rentals, 85% of them are three bedrooms or less. The vast majority of whole-home, short-term rentals, according to AirDNA, are one to three bedrooms,” Baptista said.
The Planning Board voted to not receive public comment during the Feb. 5 meeting.
‘Supply and demand’
The question of supply and demand came up frequently during the meeting, where the board aimed to determine whether proposed restrictions would impact affordability as proposed.
In 2022, there were at least 5,268 STRs in the unincorporated parts of the county, according to county contractor Clarion and Associates that used the AirDNA software system.
The “roughly 6,000” number reported by the county marks a nearly 800-unit increase and would reflect a majority of the 7,699 unit long-term rental gap reported in a 2021 Dogwood Health Trust Study on housing.
Planning Board member John Noor wondered if the current proposals for regulations would sufficiently target and convert short-term rentals to affordable long-term rentals as intended from the regulations.
“The way I’ve understood the argument is that if these were converted back to long-term housing, these would not turn into affordable long-term housing,” Noor said during the meeting, noting that he would be interested in looking at more options in terms of regulations.
The regulations were shaped with smaller complexes and units being targeted as a primary unit-types for the regulations.
“When we were thinking about writing these regulations and giving you a proposal — we have examples of condos, townhouses and duplexes being rented as short-term rentals,” Long Range Planning Division Manager Gillian Phillips said during the meeting.
Challenges of renting STVR’s
Pennington noted a few concerns with renting out STVR’s in Buncombe, where a recreational vehicle recently caught fire after being used as a STVR. The fire almost spread to a propane tank, Pennington said.
“I’m just getting you all used to some of the other factors that come up all the time when we talk about short term rental arrangements and, again, vehicles are not intended to be permanently habitable,” Pennington said.
Noor suggested a carveout restriction for accessory dwelling units, or ADU’s, which could potentially be used as homestays. The city of Asheville separates STVR’s from homestays, where the use of homestays is allowed in more areas.
Discussion of differentiating regulations between STVR’s and additional dwelling units — also known as homestays — was also mentioned in the meeting, where Noor said he would prefer to avoid regulating homestays.
Planning Board Chair Nancy Waldrop agreed.
“I think there’s a huge difference between the problems associated that we’ve heard about with a whole house rental, versus somebody having a garage apartment or somebody in their basement,” said Planning Board member Nancy Waldrop.
What do the discussed regulations look like?
A summary of the proposed amendments to short-term rentals includes limiting the use of dwelling units for certain zoning districts, reducing the maximum gross floor area for an STR and the development of a zoning permit process, which would allow pre-existing STRs to remain in operation. Here are some of the proposed amendments:
- Limit the use of short-term rentals and grouped complexes of STRs to commercial zoning districts, where grouped complexes would have to seek a Special Use Permit.
- Change the definition of STR to allow only single-family detached units to be rented short-term and clarify that the definition includes those that are rented for a minimum of two days and no more than 30 days.
- Require the rental of units for two nights every 180 days to maintain legal status of pre-existing STRs.
- Prohibit short-term rentals in Manufactured Home Parks.
- Create Special Requirement standards for short-term rentals in commercial areas, including parking, spacing and event limits.
A full list of the discussed short-term rental regulations and meeting video can be viewed at engage.buncombecounty.org/buncombeplanningboard.
Want to comment? Here are the meeting dates
The Planning Board will host another work session to discuss what possible regulations would look like before hosting another public comment session in March. Board members suggested an additional meeting may be required for further discussion before a vote.
Currently, here are the planned dates for future meetings:
- Planning Board work session: 9:30 a.m. Feb. 19 in the County Commissioners Chambers at 200 College St. Board of Commissioners Chambers.
- Planning Board public comment meeting: March 18. Time and location to be determined.
Will Hofmann is the Growth and Development Reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Got a tip? Email him at [email protected]. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.