WINCHESTER — The man who made it his mission to implement rules regarding short-term rentals in Winchester has left the city just as his suggested regulations are being presented to City Council.

Frank Hopkins, who became Winchester's zoning administrator on Dec. 3, 2019, recently resigned his post to become planning director for Powhatan County, a rural community near Richmond with a total population of less than 30,000. While that's roughly the same as Winchester's current population, Powhatan County ranks as one of the fastest-growing regions in Virginia.

Hopkins' departure was announced to the Winchester Planning Commission on Tuesday, just minutes before the panel voted on a proposed ordinance that would impose strict rules on where and how short-term rentals can operate in the city. Hopkins was the driving force and principle author of the draft regulations.

Short-term rentals are private properties offered to travelers for periods of up to 30 days that are advertised through online services such as Airbnb and VRBO.

City Council recognized the existence and operation of short-term rentals in July 2018, but the ordinance approved at that time was problematic because it lacked specifics on where, when and how they could operate. As Planning Commission member Paul Richardson said on Tuesday, "We couldn't quite get the language right."

Hopkins took on the task on improving and clarifying the ordinance shortly after he came to Winchester, but several of his proposals drew criticism. For example, he suggested limiting the number of nights that a short-term rental can operate to 104 per year — equivalent to the number of Saturdays and Sundays in a typical calendar year — and requiring on-site parking even though there is no such stipulation for standard long-term rentals.

On Tuesday, Planning Commission Chairman Mark Loring admitted there was a "disconnect" when it came to the city's requirements for short-term rentals.

The updated ordinance regarding short-term rentals, if approved by City Council, would immediately put some short-term rentals out of business. That's because the proposal states that short-term rentals could only be located in downtown Winchester's Central Business (B-1) and Residential Business (RB-1) zoning districts — no exceptions.

Recordo Ford, who has applied for a conditional-use permit to continue operating a short-term rental at his home at 414 N. Pleasant Valley Road — in a Medium Density Residential (MR) district — told the commission that excluding all districts but B-1 and RB-1 is unfair.

"I think you guys are creating regulations in fear of something that has not happened," Ford said.

His next-door neighbor agreed, at least when it comes to Ford's short-term rental.

"These owners have been nothing but conscientious," James Yergen said. "The property is kept in excellent shape. There is no problem with parking."

Another proposed rule states that short-term rentals could only be offered by homeowners. Renting a property and then subleasing it as a short-term rental would not be allowed.

"If you do away with subleasing, my entire business folds," said Realtor Michelle Bouve Hoffman, who subleases more than a dozen short-term rentals in Winchester.

Other proposed regulations regarding short-term rentals in the city state:

  • Properties cannot be marketed as locations for special events, including weddings and receptions.
  • No more than five rooms per property can be offered for short-term rentals.
  • Each rented room would be restricted to two adults, but there are no proposed limits on accompanying children. No more than nine adults could rent rooms at a property at any given time.
  • Multifamily structures cannot be used.
  • There is no limit on the number of nights per year that a short-term rental can operate.

"This text amendment was ultimately crafted to take the entire city's well-being into consideration," said Winchester Program Manager Patrick Elwell, who is serving as interim zoning administrator until Hopkins' successor is hired.

"Unfortunately, we can't make everybody happy with every text amendment presented," Commissioner Brandon Pifer said. "I would have to be in favor of this."

Commissioner David Ray agreed, stating Winchester has a shortage of available housing for residents so government officials need to ensure the limited stock is not monopolized by short-term rentals catering to people who don't live here.

"I like the idea of the rules. We have to have them," Ray said.

"I think the most important thing right now is that we get this to City Council because they're going to be the ones to decide," Richardson said.

The commission voted unanimously to forward the proposed regulations to council's next meeting on July 27.

Attending Tuesday afternoon's Winchester Planning Commission meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairwoman Lacey Burnett and members John Tagnesi, Brandon Pifer, Paul Richardson and David Ray. Commissioner Leesa Mayfield was absent.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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