HARRISONBURG — At a lengthy meeting, City Council approved its first three short-term rental permits.
Council unanimously approved the applicant’s request at 1451 Hillcrest Drive, 341 S. Willow St. and 981 Summit Ave. to have a special-use permit.
Voting in favor was Mayor Deanna Reed and Councilmen Richard Baugh, Chris Jones, George Hirschmann and Sal Romero.
City staff did not recommend approval for the 981 Summit Ave. application, which city Director of Planning and Community Development Adam Fletcher attributed to the location being “deep within a residential neighborhood.”
“Staff doesn’t believe, in this particular case, that this property is located in a location that we believe should begin to operate a business operation this deep within a neighborhood,” he said. “Location for us is important.”
Planning Commission voted for approval of the permit with a 5-2 vote. Henry Way and Kathy Whitten voted against. Voting in favor was Gil Col Colman, Brent Finnegan, Mark Finks, Zanetta Ford-Byrd and council representative Romero.
Reed said she didn’t understand the reasoning behind staff’s request for denial.
Romero said the neighborhood residents are already used to non-residents coming through the area to see the views of the city, “and that’s why I voted in favor of the applicant and still am in support.”
Jones said the city is putting its shared-use path around that neighborhood, “and I say that to say that I don’t believe this council will ever be in the business of the ‘not in my backyard, not in my neighborhood’ type mentality.”
“I would much rather set the precedent that everyone on Summit Avenue felt comfortable allowing people to come through and do a short-term rental than the opposite,” Jones said.
Fletcher also said that city staff decided to require operators to fill out a short-term rental pre-operation form, which will confirm the accommodations spaces are meeting code restrictions.
Operators must continue to stay in compliance with the codes.
Reed asked Fletcher how it would be monitored and Fletcher said it’s up to the operator to make sure there is compliance with the state codes.
In other news, council held a public hearing regarding a request from the homeowners of 706, 710 and 714 Greenbriar Drive to rezone their property from R-1, single-family residential district, to R-3C, medium density residential district conditional.
The surrounding properties are mainly zoned R-1 but have R-4, planned unit residential district, on the other side of the street and B-2, general business district nearby.
The applicants planned to rent each dwelling to four unrelated individuals, according to city documents.
The properties were annexed from Rockingham County into the city in 1983. In the county, the residencies were zoned R-5, planned residential district.
The intent of the district was “to permit flexibility and consequently, more creative and imaginative designs,” according to city documents.
A number of residents spoke against the rezoning saying they want to keep the R-1 appeal.
Howard Cohen presented council with a soundtrack from his phone of the noise level in his area on Oak Hill Drive. Oak Hill Drive is located behind the houses on Greenbriar Drive.
“Drunken brawls, occupying the house illegally, I have been told by residents on Greenbriar that they have seen students urinating on the streets,” he said, adding that he has called the police a number of times.
“Is it our responsibility to live like this? We pay the taxes — the students come and go,” he said.
Sam Vargis and Julian Pena, owners of 714 Greenbriar Drive, said they also have to deal with student parties all the time, but said their home identifies with the R-3 type of environment.
They said there is a lack of R-3 homes in Harrisonburg and their homes would act as a buffer between the different zoning areas.
Dawn Wine, a 23-year resident on Oak Hill Drive, was strongly against the rezoning request.
“We are asking to preserve the sanctity of our neighborhood,” she said. “If you allow these three, then the next three down are going to say ‘well you let them’ and pretty soon it’s going to be all college students that have no vested interest in that neighborhood.”
Sarah and Jeff Domingus, residents of Oak Hill Drive, said they appreciate James Madison University and all it brings to the city.
“But for us, it’s more about preserving the integrity of some of these family neighborhoods that do still exist within the city, and allowing college students to have their communities and allowing families to have their communities,” Sarah said.
Previous council member Carolyn Frank, who owns but does not reside at 710 Greenbriar Drive, also spoke during the hearing.
She said she has never had any complaints from her tenants about noise in the area in the nine years she has rented out the house.
“Some of the things — the noise, the parties and the trash — that’s not going to change with our rezoning,” she said.
Following the hearing, Baugh said the city’s land use guide shows that the area should remain R-1.
After a lengthy discussion, council unanimously denied the request.
Council unanimously approved a request to establish a new zoning district to the city’s ordinance, titled R-8, which would be a small lot residential district.
The applicant, Richard Blackwell, discussed the idea with staff in early 2017. It would be for the development of single-family detached neighborhoods and would allow for higher density development for small lot sizes than what the zoning ordinance currently allows, city documents say.
Blackwell spoke during the public hearing saying the district will help with affordable housing.
“One of the goals we have in this is to, not necessarily first time, but generally first-time homebuyers owning their home and living in it,” Blackwell said. “And I think it’ll produce more revenue for the city, but more than that it provides housing for a lot of people who frankly can’t afford it now.”
Council also unanimously approved a resolution to set new rates for emergency medical services transportation.
The rates haven’t been changed since 2009.
City Attorney Chris Brown said the rates are being increased to be more in line with the county and other localities.
Council also unanimously approved the issuance of up to $8 million bond to partially finance the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board project.
The board has been planning an expansion and construction project due to its space problem.
The county and city will pay half of the cost.
“Afterwards, the city, county and CSB will each cover one-third of the bond payments,” he said, adding that the bonds are through the Virginia Resource Authority and will close in August.
Brown said the Virginia Resource Authority has received bids for the project, are reviewing them now and will soon know the cost of the project. He said city staff is confident that the city’s portion will be less than $8 million.