WINCHESTER — A Winchester couple that unknowingly violated city zoning ordinances by offering a short-term rental unit in their home has received the Planning Commission’s blessing to continue operations.

Gail and Sam Long live at 118 N. Washington St. in a house that was built in 1920 as a single-family home, but was converted to apartments sometime prior to 1950. The Longs bought the property in 1998 so Gail Long’s elderly mother could live in a single-story cottage behind the house.

Today, the Longs live in a large first-floor apartment inside the house and rent out the other two units upstairs.

A few years back, they decided to offer the smallest of the second-floor apartments as a short-term rental where travelers can stay for up to 30 days. Gail Long said she has a five-star host rating from Airbnb, an online lodging service that advertises short-term rentals across the country.

In July 2018, City Council passed an ordinance amendment governing short-term rentals in Winchester. After learning this, the Longs submitted paperwork so they would be in compliance with the new rules.

That’s when they discovered their property had been rezoned years ago to Limited High Density Residential (HR-1), which does not allow apartment buildings or short-term rentals.

Since the couple’s house had been converted to apartments prior to the implementation of the new zoning district, the Longs can legally continue to offer long-term rental units. However, without a conditional-use permit (CUP) from City Council, the short-term rental violates the zoning ordinance.

The short-term unit has high marks from Airbnb and has never given the property’s neighbors a reason to complain, but Winchester Zoning Administrator Frank Hopkins told the Planning Commission on Tuesday that he reluctantly had to recommend denial of a CUP because the Longs were operating a short-term rental in an area not zoned for it.

The commission acknowledged the ordinance violation, but found no reason to shut down a successful, well-managed short-term rental unit.

“I have no problem at all with what’s going on here,” Commissioner David Ray said.

Hopkins didn’t seem to mind that his recommendation was rejected.

“I have the utmost confidence they will operate an outstanding short-term rental,” he said.

“The current users have a well-run operation there,” Winchester Planning Director Timothy Youmans added.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend City Council’s approval of the CUP, with the condition that the Longs continue to live on the property as long as they offer the short-term rental unit.

Attending Tuesday afternoon’s Winchester Planning Commission meeting, which was held via videoconference, were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairman John Tagnesi and members Lacey Burnett, Leesa Mayfield, Brandon Pifer, David Ray and Paul Richardson.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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