City proposes rule changes for Airbnb-style rentals and secondary suites

A January map of identified STRs in the city shows the greatest concentrations in the Fan and Museum neighborhoods, the Jackson and Monroe neighborhoods, Church Hill and Shockoe.

As it prepares for a major overhaul of all of its zoning rules, the City of Richmond is moving forward with a trio of proposed changes to bylaws relating to short-term home rentals, secondary suites and minimum parking requirements .

In a virtual meeting on Tuesday, city planners presented their draft recommendations to change these specific regulations, based on research and community outreach and feedback that began with a series of meetings in August.

More than 700 people attended a series of initial meetings on the three zoning changes in August. (Photo by Jonathan Spiers)

For Airbnb-style, or STR, short-term home rentals, the recommendations would eliminate a primary residence requirement in which operators must reside in the rented property for at least half the year.

Instead, STRs would be permitted in any dwelling in any of the city’s zoning districts, but with a distance requirement separating the unit from another STR in a non-primary residence. The specific distance between units is yet to be determined, but planners said the distance will fluctuate based on lot sizes in a given neighborhood.

For multi-family dwellings of three or more units, only one-third of the units could be allowed as STR – or no more than 10 units, whichever is lower.

Other existing regulations would remain the same, with STRs permitted as whole units or up to five individual rooms with no limit on the number of nights rented; no more than one reservation transaction per unit during the same period; and a $300 permit required every two years.

The recommendations also call for more personnel for authorizing and enforcing STRs, adding a fine or penalty for non-compliance that increases with multiple violations, levying a tax of transient occupancy on units and the requirement for a unit inspection.

The primary residence condition had been a point of contention for operators who rent more than one property. When drafting the rules currently in place, officials said the requirement was necessary to prevent operators from buying multiple properties in residential neighborhoods and essentially using them as mini-hotels.

For secondary suites, or ADUs, staff recommend allowing an ADU settlement right on the same property as a single-family dwelling in all zoning districts that allow such dwellings. Additional ADUs on the same property may be permitted, but would require a special use permit or other exception from the city.

Also called accessory apartments, secondary suites, or “grandmother’s apartments”, ADUs can be internal or attached to the house, or detached; could not exceed one-third of the floor area of ​​the dwelling or 500 square feet, whichever is greater; and must comply with existing zoning regarding setbacks, lot coverage, height and other regulations.

ADUs may include apartments above detached garages.

Using an ADU as an STR would require approvals for both. ADUs are seen as allowing individuals to age in place, accommodate people with special needs, create low-cost housing, and provide residents with rental opportunities to supplement their incomes.

For parking minimums, the recommendation is to eliminate this requirement entirely from the zoning ordinance, meaning that property owners would no longer be required to provide a certain amount of off-street parking based on the number of units. residential or commercial floor space.

Planner Brian Mercer clarified that the change does not mean the city no longer allows parking; it is simply not a matter of determining the number of parking spaces needed on a particular property. That decision would be left to property owners and developers, who Mercer said have shown willingness to provide well beyond the minimums required to adequately service their projects.

The elimination of minimums, Mercer said, is intended to reflect current trends in parking usage, simplify the regulatory process, support multimodal transportation, reduce business and housing costs, and potentially encourage the redevelopment of parking lots throughout the city.

The recommendations also call for continuing to expand public transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, such as the GRTC Pulse rapid transit bus line and bicycle lanes in the city; promote shared parking, such as the opening of office parking lots that can accommodate evening users; review residential on-street parking permit programs; and periodically assess curbside time limits.

After years of work, the zoning changes follow recommendations included in the city’s master plan and requests from city council members. STR changes fulfill a process started in January to overhaul Richmond’s rules to regulate Airbnb-style rentals, which the city mostly considers non-compliant and illegal.

In January, the Planning Commission approved a resolution of intent to change the rules and review some regulations, including the primary residence requirement. The commission was due to consider changes to the rules last summer, having passed them in mid-2020 with the warning that they would be reviewed to assess their effectiveness.

The recommendations open a public comment period which is scheduled to run until January 2, 2023. A public comment form to provide feedback is available on the city website. Additional meetings on the proposals are scheduled for Thursday and next Tuesday and are also detailed on the site.

Staff then plan to draft individual ordinances for each of the proposed changes for presentation to the planning commission and city council, which could adopt them by mid-2023. Planners said the changes are being pursued separately but could be bundled into the planned rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance, if city leaders choose.

The city is preparing to begin a two-year process to rewrite the entire ordinance — an effort to update zoning requirements to better reflect current development trends and goals. The process would begin with the creation of a book of city-wide development models and frameworks for a new zoning ordinance and zoning districts, followed by a drafting of the new ordinance during the second year.

The city is preparing a solicitation to solicit proposals from consultants, one or more of whom could be selected to perform the rewrite.

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