The thorny issue of regulating short-term home rentals in Pinehurst in a way that does not run afoul of state laws could be on the agenda for the next Village Council.
Candidates for mayor and two open council seats were asked about their positions on the matter — among other issues — last Tuesday night during a forum sponsored by the Pinehurst Civic Group.
Candidates were divided on how far the village could — and should — go to deal with the issue, especially given the N.C. General Assembly’s recent attempts this summer to restrict the authority of local governments on several fronts, including short-term rentals.
“I believe it is a problem for some neighborhoods,” said former council member John Strickland, who is running for mayor. “We need to address this. I am sure in the next council, this will come to be a very serious question.”
His opponent, Claire Berggren, also a former council member, was more cautious, noting that Pinehurst’s origins were as a resort-rental community.
“My understanding is right now the legislature says you can’t treat a short-term rental differently than you can a long-term rental. … We have to step lightly and (stay) within legal bounds.”
Berggren and Strickland were both members of a previous council that balked at dealing with the issue in October 2014. Back then, Village Attorney Mike Newman issued an opinion that any attempt to keep people from renting their homes “will not survive judicial scrutiny.”
The Lake Pinehurst Association had asked the village to create a zoning “overlay district” covering the 288 lots around the lake and a code amendment to ban rentals of less than six months. Association members complained that a few homes there are rented regularly to weekend golfers who sometimes party into the early morning hours, subjecting neighbors to noise, profane language and cars parked everywhere.
The village’s advice at the time: Call the police if there are problems.
Police Chief Earl Phipps said at the time that the few complaints the village received then did not warrant doing anything more.
Berggren, a former marketing director for the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, was among a majority of council members who shared the chief’s position, which she reiterated during the forum Tuesday night.
“The easiest, most legal thing to do, is if you have folks who are renters and they are being disruptive, call the police,” she said.
Strickland had wanted the village look further into the matter five years ago, suggesting that a task force be formed. But the other members did not want to go down that route.
The short-term rental issue was resurrected last year when council member Judy Davis, who was elected in 2017, said the village should look into creating a permitting process for short-term rental homes, as it does for such things as home-based offices. It came as a new collaborative working group of elected leaders and senior-level staff members of Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen — called Tri-Cities — also began discussing short-term rentals in July 2018. That discussion focused on such things as safety, impacts to the surrounding neighborhoods, and collecting room occupancy taxes.
Short-term rentals have long been part of the fabric of Pinehurst. Popular websites like VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) and Airbnb have made it cheap and easy for homeowners to rent their houses. A check of Airbnb this week found at least 112 homes for rent in the Pinehurst area, and 95 listed on VRBO.
Strickland believes Pinehurst could follow the examples of other towns and cities around the country, including Raleigh, that have implemented regulations for such things as “fire and emergency requirements” that hotels and motels must meet.
“I think that is a very basic standard that we should be looking at for Pinehurst,” he said.
He added that issues regarding fees and permitting could also be discussed “in a mutually convenient way” with those who rent their homes and residents in neighborhoods where there have been problems.
Berggren said she would want to avoid exceeding the authority granted by state law “by us trying to force some kind of regulations or permitting on a short-term rental.” She said other municipalities are looking at things related to safety that can be considered.
“And there are property rights that you have to honor,” Berggren said. “People can live there, they can rent it or sell it.”
The three candidates running for two open seats on the council — Lydia Boesch, Jane Hogeman and Stuart Mills – also differed on what the village should do. All three are attorneys.
Boesch said she recently took part in a continuing legal education program on short-term rentals that included a presentation by officials from Asheville. She said they “first defined how big their problem” had gotten, and spent two years studying it “to find a solution to fit their problem and stay within the parameters of state law.”
“So I believe it’s time for Pinehurst to do the same.” she said. “Let’s identify the problem. Let’s bring our neighborhoods in and see what the problem is. I believe it is time for us to develop a policy that fits our problem but also stays within the constraints imposed on us by state law.”
Hogeman agreed that short-term rentals can be a problem that impacts the “residential atmosphere” of neighborhoods where they are located. She said one way “to keep them down is to not allow rezoning for high density,” such as condos and apartments, and keep existing single-family home neighborhoods the way they are now.
Hogeman said she is unsure of all the “mechanisms towns are permitted by the state to use.”
“But we should look at all these mechanisms to make sure we are using everything we can to protect our local citizens here year-round,” she said.
Mills said he would apply the same rules to short-term rentals as other rental properties.
“If people are disturbing the peace, then you ought to call the police,” Mills said. “If they leave trash and are not complying with the rules, the owners of the property should be held responsible.”
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or email@example.com.