By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Arguments in favor of building the new municipal center on Betsy Kerrison Parkway included the shortage of parking available at the old offices on Beachwalker Drive. However, there were no spaces available at the new building 15 minutes before the start of the Town of Kiawah Island’s Oct. 1 Council meeting. The chambers were equally packed with standing room the only option for those arriving just ahead of the 2 p.m. meeting time. Ordinance 2019-08 was on the agenda and got the credit/blame for the large turnout.
The town has been working on amendments to its short-term rental policy since January of this year, deeming changes necessary to protect the public’s safety, health and welfare. The measure institutes licensing of rental properties, establishes an application process, fees for the right to rent and fines for non-compliance, specifies operating requirements and establishes caps on the number of licenses available. The act affects primarily single family homes zoned R1 but also impacts some R2 zoned units.
Mayor Craig Weaver said he and Council understand the sensitive nature of their proposal and that the turnout was appreciated. More than 12 people signed up in advance to make comments, and his call for a show of hands suggested still more intended to contribute to the debate.
“We generally limit citizens’ comments to 30 minutes each…” A collective ‘Wait! What?’ reaction filled the room as attendees did the math. The mayor’s comment, however, referred to the two instances of citizens’ comments on the agenda and not each individual’s contribution.
Weaver went on to cite the ordinance that limits individual contributions to five minutes, and while he said the law was only loosely enforced, he encouraged people to be succinct as a courtesy. Weaver also waived the limit of 30 speakers on that segment of the agenda and argued against cheering and clapping. He explained there were four possible actions available to the Council: Table the ordinance, amend it, kick it back to staff for further review before next month’s second reading or reject it outright. Weaver then opened to floodgates to public comments.
[Editor’s note: Contributors are assumed to be Kiawah residents unless otherwise noted. What follows is only a summary of individual comments. Video of the threeplus hour meeting is available by visiting the town’s website at https://www.kiawahisland. org/].
Allen Allred, first to the podium, spoke in favor of ordinance 2019-08. He thanked the town for not kicking the can down the road, adding, “I’m more worried about the value of my property when I’m here than when I sell,” in a proactive argument against the claim that rental properties degrade home values.
Dave DeStefano observed that there are 1,700 full-time residents on the island.
He argued there was no need for limits and questioned the associated fees. He addressed the oft-repeated complaints of trash and towels being left out and too many cars or people in too small a house saying, “… what we need is enforcement [of existing regulations], not caps.”
Patrick Shepard didn’t support the measure either.
He said he asked the town for rental trends, numbers, data or something to justify the change, which the town couldn’t provide.
“We have enough rules. Do we really need to raise taxes? Is that what we’re doing?” Shepard asked.
He was particularly alarmed by the caveat in the ordinance that allows for a fine of $500 and/or a 30-day jail sentence. The immediate response from the dais defended jail time on the basis it was part of many town ordinances, that is was rarely or never used but remained at the discretion of the municipal judge.
Former Council member Greg Vanderwerker has a rental house near his home and supports the ordinance. However, he thinks the homes that fall under the inclusions/exclusions in R2 need further study.
Wendy Kulick read a comment from resident/developer Candace Dyal into the record. Dyal observed that there is currently a glut of homes listed for sale on Kiawah – some estimates ranging as high as 450 – and that the unencumbered ability to rent your home is the only thing saving the real estate market.
“Craig, I know you’ve had a bad experience next door, and I would probably feel the same way. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” read parts of her letter to the Council.
Toula DiGiovanni thinks #2019-08 will hurt her and others in their roles as a real estate agents on Kiawah.
“How do I write a contingency contract when they don’t own the home? The lack of control over who gets a license removes an entire class of buyer – second-home market,” DiGiovanni said, adding “I ought to be able to use my asset as I see fit.”
Michael DiGiovanni seconded his wife and warned the Council about the probability of lawsuits.
“So you’re going to end up spending our money defending yourselves from us?” he asked rhetorically.
Ellen Walkley said she and the 25 agents who work with her “are devastated by the prospects of this ordinance. I can’t sell uncertainty,” she said before echoing comments that the issue was a simple matter of enforcement. “All owners are sellers.”
Lawrence Best said he couldn’t have bought his place if he had not been able to rent it.
Scott Nelson said his quality of life is directly and negatively impacted by the trash, bikes, overcrowding of units and cars spawned by renters.
Beth Driskell said she has owned as many as seven homes at a time during her tenure on Kiawah. She currently owns three and thinks the town should buy them back from her if they enact #ordinance 2019-08. Her grand plan is to buy, rent while the property appreciates and sell, seesawing her way to a retirement home free of debt. She can’t do that if the town proceeds with its new amendments.
“This is a matter of enforcement. These are my assets to use as I see fit,” she said.
Ross Appel spoke to the issue as a representative of Insperato, a purveyor of rental homes with a dozen properties under agreement on Kiawah. Appel, like the representatives of two other “vacation club” groups, didn’t feel he was part of the process and questioned the legal foundation for #ordinance 2019-08.
Ilene Olanoff, Paul Nelson and Barb Waters all expressed similar wonder at what problem the town was trying to solve with #ordinance 2019-08.
“People would come into my office and tell me ‘we need a new rule. We need a new policy.’ And I would always tell them to describe the problem. Restricting renters and rentals is no guarantee you won’t have the neighbor from hell,” said Waters.
Phil Duncan owns two properties on the island and also seemed to think the issue is a matter of enforcement.
“Good is good, and bad is bad, but this has nothing to do with the owners,” he said.
The town’s full-blown summary of the issue is available by visiting https://www. kiawahisland.org/draft-of-short-termrental-ordinance-revisions/. All five Council members weighed in on and were in full support of the ordinance. Council member Klaus Said wanted higher application fees, while the mayor lobbied for lower fees.
Council member Chris Widuch was the point man charged with developing the amendment, and his comments are the focus of the summary below.
- The town started work on the ordinance 2019-08 in January 2019.
- Similar ordinances from 12 different municipalities formed the foundation for the amendment.
- According to the town’s comprehensive plan, Kiawah is a residential community, as opposed to a commercial community.
- The goal is to preserve the residential character of Kiawah.
- The tendency for people to rent less space than needed for the number of people staying in a unit poses a fire and safety risk.
- License supplies will be controlled by price, with higher fees being charged for first-time requests to prevent hoarding.
- The town isn’t trying to control rentals so much as control the increase in the number of rental units.
- The town is not taking away or even reducing the number of rentals.
- Units zoned R3 (multi-family units – windswept) are completely unaffected by the ordinance.
- Units zoned R2 (stand-alone condos like Night Heron) are mostly unaffected by the change.
- Units zoned R1 (single-family homes like those beyond the V-gate) can grow in number by 60%, or around 200 more than are currently available for rent.
- The mayor noted that the town will have to take over some of the Kiawah Island Community Association’s enforcement responsibilities.
- Town Administrator Stephanie Tillerson noted that additional staff would be required.
The roll call vote seemed unnecessary, since ordinance 2019-08 passed its first reading unanimously along with its companion, ordinance 2019-07.
The town’s administrator noted that the town participated in removing 1,000 loads of debris produced by Hurricane Dorain.
The mayor, likewise, had only a single announcement: A new medical facility/urgent care center is going in on Seabrook Island Road, where Lulu’s restaurant used to be.