The Isle of Palms short term rentals meeting on September 16 was a far cry from the meetings of two and three years ago, when every mention of the words “short term rentals” caused at least a sharp word or two to fly and at worst, sparked a full on red-faced debate. Today, however, the formerly contentious topic was approached with cool aplomb by both the City Council and the Planning Commission, all of whom walked through the issues step by step under the statistics-assisted guidance of Mayor Dick Cronin.
To keep things simple, Mayor Cronin divided the topic into two sections: zoning issues and livability issues. Under zoning, the Mayor reported that the average size of new homes built on the Isle of Palms is between 3800 and 4051 square feet, and of the 17 new homes built last year, not one of them was built as a rental. This is surprising compared to previous years, where the building of rental homes peaked at 50% of new home construction in 2003 and approached that number again in 2006 with 43% of new homes being built as rentals.
As for livability, Mayor Cronin stated that, of the 1,787 rentals on the Isle of Palms (including Wild Dunes), 275 are long term rentals and 1,512 are short term rentals, with 816 of the short term rentals found in Wild Dunes. Council member Mike Loftus added that this means that about 40% of the homes/dwelling units on the Isle of Palms are rentals, as there are roughly 4,600 homes on the Isle of Palms today. Mayor Cronin also made a note of the noise complaints received over the past two years. In 2008, 111 noise complaints were reported while so far this year, 93 noise complaints have been filed with the Livability officer.
Council member Barbara Bergwerf pointed out that she felt the local rental agencies are working hard to ensure that their renters abide by the island’s livability laws; the real question is what will the Council do about the future? Do the short term rentals create noise in residential districts and when those rentals are replaced, can that be prevented? “This is our challenge,” said Bergwerf. “Plan for our future.”
The Council wholeheartedly agreed with her, and the majority of the meeting consisted of discussions circling around preventative measures that could bring the Isle of Palms to an eventual amicable balance of residential and rental homes on the island.
“I think the overriding mood seems clear,” said Town Administrator Linda Lovvorn Tucker. “We should look to a vision of the Isle of Palms in 10, 15, 20 years and not so much at today’s complaints. We need to have more of a focus on the future of the island and allowing it to multiply to whatever end that may be. In 15 years, do we want the 7,000 square foot homes on every plot of land you can see? It’s more visionary than data.”
Mayor Cronin, the Council and the Planning Commission agreed. The main issues that the Planning Commission were given to tackle were the preservation of greenspace, the issue of density (How does the Isle of Palms retain the neighborhood feel and prevent homes from being packed in like sardines), and the conformity of new homes with the current surrounding neighbhorhoods.
Cronin admitted that there are still many roads to travel, but they’ve made progress and he hopes to continue. “We should become a quiet, peaceful community which is loving for everyone,” he said.