Mount Pleasant Town Council passed first reading of the town’s short-term rental ordinance Tuesday night, moving the long-discussed proposed regulations one step closer to the Code of Ordinances.
Town Council voted 7-1 in favor; Councilman Kevin Cunnane voted against the ordinance and Councilwoman Guang Ming Whitley was absent. The proposal will go back to the Planning Committee early next month for further revision and discussion before Town Council votes a second time.
The Mount Pleasant Planning Department has been working on the ordinance for almost a year in conjunction with the council’s Planning Committee. Staff members researched local trends, spoke with other municipalities, received public input and produced multiple drafts. The Planning Committee voted in April to send the proposed ordinance to the Planning Commission, which comprises nine citizens appointed by Town Council.
Michele Canon, principal planner for Mount Pleasant, told Town Council that a key consideration in drafting the ordinance was making sure all short-term rentals are on an even playing field. Currently, short-term rentals where the owner lives on site are regulated as bed-and-breakfast establishments, while rentals where the owner lives off site are unregulated.
The commission recommended denial of that draft, based on concerns about high cost of the $400 short-term rental permit fee, fire safety regulations and parking requirements, among other things.
Earlier this month, the Planning Committee, which comprises four Town Council members, discussed the commission’s concerns and modified the ordinance. Changes included reducing the permit fee to $250; reducing the parking requirements from one parking space per room to one space per dwelling unit; and prohibiting short-term rentals in multifamily units but allowing the rentals in multifamily zoning districts — which allows townhouses to be rented.
“I think what we have here, while it may not be perfect, is a good point of departure for this ordinance,” said Councilman Joe Bustos, who chairs the Planning Committee. “I think as we go through a year, a couple years, we’ll have to adjust this, but this gives us a way to have at least a handle on short-term rentals in the town.”
Cunnane, the only “no” vote, said he was concerned by the ordinance’s permission for short-term rental operators to do a “self-inspection” for fire safety and sign an affidavit that their property is up to code.
“I’ll sign an affidavit I never sped on the highway, but what good is it?” Cunnane said. “It’s no good. Nobody would ever accept it as a fact.”
Cunnane also said he thought that the parking requirements were not thought out enough and that capping the number of short-term rentals at 1% of residential units in the town had dubious legal standing.
Councilwoman Kathy Landing disagreed with Cunnane that the 1% cap is arbitrary, arguing that the number comes from the approximate number of short-term rentals that exist currently.
Canon said that a report from Short-Term Rental Helper, a software that allows governments to track and manage governance of short-term rentals, found about 350 short-term rental units in the town; the town has approximately 40,000 housing units, meaning a 1% cap would allow about 400 short-term rentals.
Mayor Will Haynie said he had a list of changes he hoped the Planning Committee would discuss, including grandfathering current short-term rental operators and solidifying the start date of the regulations.
“We’re trying not to be draconian,” Haynie said. “We’re trying not to cause any of our citizens to have immediate bankruptcy or something over this, but we are trying to protect the character of our neighborhoods.”