After a brief discussion, the Washington Town Council at its monthly session Monday voted unanimously to make its next regular session a joint meeting with the town planning commission, the intention being to finalize a draft of the town’s revised comprehensive plan.
At that meeting, set for 7 p.m. August 14 at town hall, the council hopes to finalize a draft of the revised plan which then can be advertised for a public hearing in September. The commission has been working for more than a year on the comprehensive plan, last revised in 2012.
Meanwhile, at council member Gary Aichele’s prodding and after another brief discussion, Mayor John Sullivan suggested Town Attorney John Bennett look into whether changes to the town zoning ordinance were advised to address Airbnb-type rentals in town.
Council member Mary Ann Kuhn said she thought the issue of Airbnb-type rentals was covered by the current zoning ordinance, and that the such rentals “had come full circle” over the last quarter century. Twenty-five years ago, she said, “people were renting rooms in their homes to visitors, and they were called tourist homes, and then B&Bs became popular . . . and now it’s Airbnbs, and they are essentially tourist homes, which our ordinance covers.”
But in the past “where those rooms were made available to the public, to transients or guests,” Aichele said, “they were in the home of somebody who was resident there. To me the biggest difference is that people can come in now and buy a property and put it online [for rent] and never set foot in the county. Never.”
The council also discussed the possibility of changing its elections from May to November (to coincide with other state and national elections), a change the Virginia General Assembly made possible this year without the former requirement that a local jurisdiction amend its original charter.
“This is just a very early discussion of the idea,” Sullivan said. “There are basically two reasons why we would do it. One, it saves us some money [an estimated $4,000 paid to the registrar of elections every four years]. And two, it may increase turnout. But we don’t want it to be perceived as some kind of power play.”
Sullivan said he thought the council should just be aware of the implications, and the council again asked Bennett to assess the effects of moving next May’s scheduled elections to the regular November election date in 2018. Bennett mentioned that the original creation of mid-year local elections throughout Virginia reflected the thinking at the time that strictly local elections were better off at some distance from state and national issues and partisan politics.