Southport approves new rules to regulate short-term rentals

The vote followed a nearly two-hour-long public hearing with feedback from residents and property managers
Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 10:36 PM EDT
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SOUTHPORT, N.C. (WECT) - With a 4-2 vote, the City of Southport Board of Aldermen approved a new ordinance to add stricter regulations to short-term rentals at a meeting Thursday night.

The dissenting votes came from aldermen Marc Spencer and Lora Sharkey.

“It sounds to me like we didn’t include any property owners of short-term rentals on this committee,” said Sharkey. “And that’s probably not a fair way to do things, so I am not in favor of passing an ordinance that’s written this way right now.”

The vote followed a nearly two-hour-long public hearing with feedback from residents and property managers.

Residents in favor of the tougher regulations were concerned about maintaining a high quality of life and keeping the “neighbor in neighborhood.” They mentioned noise, crime, large gatherings and parking issues, especially in the historic district.

“We are not Oak Island, we are not Carolina Beach, we are not Myrtle Beach and we’re certainly not Nags Head and for one I don’t want to be like those towns. There is a place for those short term rentals and that’s on the ocean front and second rows in these communities, not here,” said resident and realtor Gina Harper. “We see the houses that have been family homes for generations being turned into little more than hotels full of people who don’t know the posing problems of traffic, water, sewer infrastructure, crime, health and code enforcement, just a name a few.”

Opponents included property managers and residents who have short-term rentals.

They felt left out of the process of developing the new rules saying, with more discussion a better middle ground could have been reached.

“Several professional property management companies in town have offered the planning board and the short-term rental committee to have a conversation and be part of helping create regulations which would be a happy medium for both sides,” said Rebecca Kelley, a lifelong resident of Southport who is also the managing director of the Inn at River Oaks and is the chief executive officer of Island Vacations. “We were told during those meetings that it was inappropriate for us to have that conversation and the appropriate time would be in public comment.”

“What is the actual issue here? Have we had more police calls? Is there more crime that can be actually attributed to the short term rentals? So, what problem are we trying to solve right now?” asked Kelley.

Rental owners also cited economic reasons — that short-term rentals gave people a chance to earn a living.

Members of the Board of Aldermen came down on both sides; Mayor Joe Pat Hatem commended everyone for their public comments and involvement, but ultimately supported the public’s desire for preservation.

“But when it came down to it, the citizens of Southport want to preserve their historic heritage,” said Hatem. “Their neighborhoods, and having short-term rentals in, particularly, in the historic district and have them unbridled, unregulated, is not what the citizens want.”

Along with the tougher rules, there will be no more short-term rentals in Southport, apart from those that already exist. A line was added to clarify who is grandfathered in. Those with verifiable bookings before the ordinance was passed must now apply for an annual permit in order to keep operating as a short-term rental.

Another line that was added ensured owners would not be penalized for renting a short-term rental for longer than 30 days.

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