IW planners OK short-term rentals, solar restrictions

Published 5:17 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission, on Feb. 22, gave its assent to a series of proposed zoning ordinance changes that would permit short-term rentals in the county and impose restrictions on solar farms.

Per the most recent draft, the changes would allow short-term rentals like AirBnB as a by-right use in areas of the county zoned rural residential (RR) or rural agricultural conservation (RAC). As a by-right use, a developer who successfully applied for either zoning, or purchased land already zoned RR or RAC, would be able to set up a short-term rental without needing to obtain special permission from the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors.

According to Amy Ring, the county’s community development director, short-term rentals would still require something akin to a home occupancy permit. As a condition for obtaining such a permit, the county plans to require the property owner to designate a local contact to resolve complaints from renters during the duration of their stay. Failure to do so would allow the county to rescind the permit.

Operators of short-term rentals would further be required under the proposed ordinance changes to obtain a business license, register for the payment of transient occupancy and state sales taxes, meet current building regulations, and have a minimum of one off-street parking space per guest room in addition to the parking required for the home’s permanent residents. The ordinance would further prohibit visible evidence of the home’s use as a short-term rental, the serving of meals to guests and use of the home for event rentals. It would also impose a $500 penalty for failure to obtain the required permits.

A conditional use permit, which would entail going before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, would be required for short-term rentals in all other residential zoning.

The changes would also restrict utility-scale solar farms to areas outside the county’s development service districts, and require them to be sited within a 2-mile radius of an existing substation or high-voltage power line. Currently, Isle of Wight has designated three development service districts, which serve as geographic areas where the county hopes to attract developers with available or planned water and sewer infrastructure and road improvements. The Newport DSD spans Benn’s Church, Brewer’s Neck and Carrollton boulevards. The Windsor DSD surrounds the northern, southern and eastern borders of the town of Windsor. The Camptown DSD spans Route 258 and Carrsville Highway near the county’s border with the city of Franklin.

The Board of Supervisors had discussed imposing the solar farm restrictions in November, but sent the draft ordinance back to the Planning Commission for further review and edits.

The latest version now clarifies that minor utility solar farms would be exempt from the requirements. The county’s existing ordinances define minor utilities as those necessary to support development only within the immediate vicinity and involve only minor structures.

The draft ordinance also includes a number of proposed changes resulting from last year’s annual review by Isle of Wight’s planning and zoning staff. The changes include:

  • Reducing side yard setback requirements for lots zoned RR or RAC to 15 feet for both sides.
  • Reducing the minimum lot size for urban residential zoning from 12,000 square feet to 8,500.
  • Allowing parking lots with less than 20 spaces in the Newport DSD or highway corridor overlay district to be paved with gravel or similar materials.
  • Reducing the minimum setback requirement for accessory structures in RR or RAC zoning to 5 feet.
  • Imposing a height limit of 15 feet and a total area limit of 500 square feet for accessory structures in RR or RAC zoning.
  • Permitting Dumpsters or shipping containers used for the storage of construction materials as a temporary use for up to 60 days, and requiring a zoning permit to allow the Dumpsters to remain for up to six months.
  • Allowing reptile breeding in general commercial zoning with a conditional use permit.
  • Eliminating the requirement that reptiles be kept in glass cages, recognizing that there are now equally safe materials other than glass.
  • Adding a requirement that owners and operators of reptile breeding facilities keep a current report on file with the county, which lists any venomous species kept on the property.
  • Allowing private sawmills to process timber cut from the parcel on which they are located or an adjacent parcel, but only if it’s for personal use.
  • Allowing peddlers and itinerant merchants as permitted by-right in village center zoning.

The Planning Commission’s vote was 6-0 in favor of recommending the proposed changes to the Board of Supervisors. Three commissioners were absent.