HARRISONBURG — In Tuesday’s meeting, City Council unanimously voted in favor of all eight special-use permits to allow for short-term rentals in the city, and approved a request by the Northeast Neighborhood Association for a special-use permit for a community building.
Most requests for short-term rentals were approved with no hesitation, but two properties had more in-depth discussion.
Prior to council’s 5-0 approval of a special-use permit to allow a short-term rental at 990 Summit Ave., Adam Fletcher, the city’s director of planning and community development, told council that Planning Commission had the discussion of how many short-term rentals are too many.
There have been 19 approved special-use permits for short-term rentals throughout the city.
This is the third approved request to hold a short-term rental on Summit Avenue. The first request was on 981 Summit Ave. and then 957 Summit Ave.
Planning Commission voted in favor of the request at 990 Summit Ave., with a 4-2 vote. Voting against was Kathy Whitten and Henry Way.
Both Way and Whitten have voted against all three Summit Avenue requests because they have concerns with the location.
During the public hearing, city resident Poti Giannakourous told council that if there was an actual economic engine driving concentration in a certain neighborhood, such as in New Orleans where there are certain cultural attractions, it could be a problem.
“There’s a [New Orleans] neighborhood that has special character and everyone wants to go and see that neighborhood and then they all fill up with short-term rentals and then the character of the neighborhood is — this particular cultural amenity is now gone. Now that’s a problem,” Giannakourous said. “But I don’t think that’s a problem we have here.”
Council also approved a special-use permit for a short-term rental at 1934 Park Road, although Planning Commission had voted, 4-2, against approval.
The reasoning was because neither of the applicants were present during the Planning Commission meeting to answer questions “and they did not want to set a precedent that people did not have to show up to the meeting to answer some of those questions,” Fletcher told council, adding that it was later found out that the absence was due to personal reasons.
Voting against the recommendation for denial at the Planning Commission meeting was Brent Finnegan and Mark Finks.
There is no ordinance that requires applicants to be at any meeting.
Mayor Deanna Reed and Councilmen Richard Baugh and Chris Jones said they understand the issue with not having any applicants in attendance, although one applicant was present at the Tuesday council meeting.
During the public hearing, Giannakourous said he would like to think he lives in a city where the character, demeanor and identity of the applicant doesn’t matter.
“What matters is the merit of their case,” he said.
In other news, council unanimously voted in favor of granting NENA a special-use permit to have a community building at 481, 491 and 505 Broad St.
Voting in favor was Reed, Baugh, Jones, George Hirschmann and Sal Romero.
The building was previously owned by Broad Street Mennonite Church, but was donated to NENA in October 2018.
NENA is a nonprofit organization, which serves in the Northeast Neighborhood “to work to make our neighborhood a secure, attractive and strong community,” according to its website.
City documents said NENA plans to continue using the building for worship services but would also like to create a Community Center where community and city residents can come for special gatherings, recreational, educational and cultural activities.
The future building plans include acquiring a music room, art room, meeting spaces and special occasion spaces for weddings, church concerts and special programs, documents said.
Council agreed to staff recommendations that NENA will have a five-year window of opportunity to establish the new use of a community center.
“This will give them time to raise the money they need to change it eventually into a community center well down the road,” Reed said. “For now, it will stay as church use.”