James City County sees rise in Airbnb SUP requests

The tourism industry has made inroads into James City County neighborhoods.

In the past two years, there’s been a notable increase in the number of special-use permit applications submitted to the county by homeowners interested in renting their properties on a short-term basis to tourists. They overwhelmingly win the approval they seek from the Board of Supervisors, which has the final say on special-use permit approval after a review and recommendation by the Planning Commission.
While the permitting process provides a case-by-case measure of oversight, there’s concern among some county officials about the spread of specially permitted short-term rentals. It’s another development question to add to the list officials and residents will have to consider as James City County continues to grow.

One possible solution pitched by a Planning Commission member earlier this month was to introduce a sunset clause on special-use permits for short-term rentals. However, the county doesn’t have the ability to do that, planning director Paul Holt said Thursday.

“Every now and again, that inquiry comes around, but we don’t have the statutory authority to do that,” he said, noting that staff has already looked into it.

Short-term tourist lodgings are part of larger conversations about residential development and the local economy, which will take place as the county reviews and updates its comprehensive plan over the next two years, Holt said. The comprehensive plan is a county document that serves as a roadmap for development into the future.

“We’re going to be looking at that,” Holt said. “That’s a good question to visit as part of the comprehensive plan update.”

Though at this stage, it’s unclear exactly what may come of those conversations.

Short-term rentals
There have been 18 applications submitted for short-term rentals as either a tourist home or as a rental of room use since 1986. Nine of those applications were submitted in 2018 and 2019, according to records provided by the county planning department this month. Among the total applications submitted, just two have been denied by the board — one in 1986 and another in 2015.

A 2013 application and a 2014 application were withdrawn before the board could weigh in on them. One of the 2019 applications seeks to renew a 2018 special-use permit that expired because the owner failed to submit an updated certificate of occupancy within the required time frame.

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