Town Council moves closer to regulating Airbnb-type rentals

The head table was full as planning commission members joined the Washington Town Council at its regular monthly meeting Monday (July 9) and the town moved a step closer to regulating peer-to-peer rentals (including Airbnb) in Washington.

The council unanimously voted to advertise a public hearing Aug. 13 on the new draft ordinance authorizing the short-term rentals by a special use permit.

Town attorney John Bennett, with input from the planning commission, has been drafting the ordinance’s language since Virginia’s general assembly last year passed a law giving localities authority to enforce such rentals and collect lodging taxes.

The joint meeting ended without any public comment, but planning commision member Caroline Anstey did raise the question of children. Reading from the draft, she said: “ ‘No more than two guests per room at any time shall be permitted.’ Can we say no more than two adults per room, because sometimes people sleep with babies in the room?”

Planning commission member Allan Comp agreed. “I would think that just saying two guests per room really makes it very difficult for a young couple with small children,” he said, suggesting that “we insert the word adult between ‘two’ and ‘guests’ in that phrase.”

“I believe that one of the philosophies behind the way the ordinance is drafted is that . . . enforcement is not used,” said Bennett, explaining that any alleged violations of special-use permits granted under this ordinance “would go before the council for review. So it’s not a situation . . . where you have to have a code enforcement officer out there looking at everything.”

The motion was defeated 3-2 with Comp and Anstey voting for it and commission members Gail Swift, Judy DeSarno and Fred Catlin against. The commission then unanimously voted to adopt the ordinance and recommend it to the town council.

Once again there were no comments from the public. After a small word change regarding applicable state health regulations, Mayor John Sullivan said, “I’m comfortable with it, a lot of work has gone into this ordinance.” The vote to hold a public hearing Aug. 13, after which the council can adopt the ordinance, was unanimous.

In other matters, there were updates on the town’s five task-force committees (on housing, infrastructure, tourism development, finance and business development). The committees are poised to give recommendations to the council approximately at the end of the year and encourage town and county citizens to contribute and participate.

There was also further discussion of a possible application request by the landowners on the Gay Street stub for the town to abandon it; to see more of that conversation visit, or the newspaper’s YouTube channel at, to view unedited video of the council’s July 9 session.

Luke Christopher
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Luke is a "Best of D.C." photographer who has been published, in print, in The Washington Post, The Washington Times and Miami New Times. He started his photography career as a reporter for the University of Maryland's daily newspaper and served as the entertainment editor for "City Living " magazine. Website: