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Spotsylvania seeks solutions to short-term rental problems

Spotsylvania seeks solutions to short-term rental problems

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A boom in short-term rentals is good for homeowners, but Spotsylvania County is experiencing the downside of the relatively new phenomenon.

The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors heard about those issues and possible solutions at last week’s meeting. The supervisors asked county staff to develop an ordinance to address their concerns.

County Zoning Administrator Kimberly Pomatto told supervisors most of the problems with short-term rentals are happening in the Lake Anna area.

Lake Anna is a manmade body of water covering 13,000 acres in Spotsylvania, Orange and Louisa counties. The lake is a popular tourist attraction, which also helps cool the North Anna nuclear power plant.

Pomatto highlighted the issues, which include the county losing tax revenue from hotels, safety concerns and problems with overloaded septic systems.

The septic problems are happening because owners renting the homes are allowing more occupants than the systems were designed to handle. The septic problem also is considered a factor—along with area farm runoff and the increase in housing—in the harmful algae blooms in the lake the past three years.

Greg Baker, the head of the Lake Anna Civic Association, said in an interview that short-term rentals have “exploded” in Lake Anna in the past three to five years, boosted by the popularity of businesses like Airbnb and other online sites where people can rent homes for a few days or weeks at a time.

Baker said Lake Anna’s short-term rental homes are basically booked through 2023.

“You can’t get a place on the lake,” he said.

Baker supports short-term rentals, but he thinks homeowners need to follow regulations, and that the county could institute an ordinance to help with things like the septic system problems.

The rentals at Lake Anna often advertise that homes can accommodate many more people than code allows.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Kevin Marshall looked up one short-term rental in Lake Anna that advertised seven bedrooms that could accommodate 24, for more than $900 a night.

Allowing more people to stay in the homes not only is harming the septic systems, it creates safety issues, with people sometimes sleeping in rooms with no windows, officials said. Fire officials also are concerned about safety issues with the packed houses.

Supervisor Barry Jett added that residents have told him they don’t feel comfortable in common areas that are sometimes taken over by short-term renters.

Marshall said the short-term rental homes are businesses and should be regulated that way.

Pomatto told the supervisors an ordinance could require inspections and permits, limit the number of renters and add safety requirements such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

The board asked her to work on a recommendation.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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