Ask, and get real answers

Someone needs to tell the town’s Planning Department staff that Chapel Hill alreadyNancy Oates has an ordinance that governs bed-and-breakfasts.

Oh, wait. Someone already has. Several someones, in fact — the former director of planning, the town attorney and multiple people in the community, including Chapel Hill Watch — going back more than 15 years. And still, when a council member asked what ordinance governs B&Bs at present, town staff gave false information. Sustainability officer John Richardson wrongly told Maria Palmer, “Today, a traditional bed-and-breakfast wouldn’t be permitted.”

Here are the facts: The Home Occupation section in the town’s Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) outlines what you can and can’t use your home for in earning money. In addition to laying out how many employees you can have in your home office, the ordinance states that you can use two bedrooms and no more than 750 square feet as a bed-and-breakfast. As the owner/manager of the establishment, you must live onsite.

If you want to rent out more than two bedrooms or rent out your entire home and live offsite, you ditch the LUMO and call your home an Airbnb, which is unregulated by town ordinance. The Airbnb website has more than 600 listings for Chapel Hill.
State law requires that the owner of a B&B live onsite, but town attorney Ralph Karpinos said there may be ways around that restriction if the town decides to move forward with enacting a new law to govern B&Bs.

This speaks to a point I’ve been harping on in my campaign stump speeches: Town Council can’t make effective decisions about where to lead the town if council members don’t have an accurate picture of where they are at present.

Why is no council member asking, What problem does this solve? Or, Why this ordinance now? Council decisions should solve problems, not create them. The town has no B&B problem, and changing the regulations (from allowing two bedrooms to four or as many as 12) will create problems that didn’t exist before. If the town’s motivation is to collect occupancy tax, start with the Airbnb’s already up and running.

Community member John Sweet researched which homes in downtown historic districts were owned by corporate investors and presented council with his significant findings. Maria Palmer said the map convinced her to vote for allowing bigger B&Bs because the corporate investment properties were poorly kept-up and were student rentals. Wouldn’t you rather live next to a B&B than a student rental? she asked, as if people who dreamed of owning a B&B would buy out a corporate investor, who is making far too much money on student rentals to sell.

Bottom line: Council needs someone on the dais who will ask questions. And council needs a staff that will provide accurate information. How can council make good decisions otherwise?
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Minerva

     /  October 5, 2015


    What the ordinance describes as a “home occupation” is not at at all what most people would consider a traditional B&B.

    Under the ordinance, there are several major restrictions that prohibit traditional B&Bs. For example:

    1) You cannot have any external evidence that your house is a B&B, also meaning you can’t have any signs at all. Hard to have a successful, traditional B&B when you can’t advertise it.

    2) You can’t have more than 3 vehicles parked at your house at any time. If you operate a B&B and you and your partner both have a car, that means you can only have 1 guest at any given time and it also means you can’t hire an employee to provide cooking or cleaning services because their cars are counted in this number.

    Anyone who has ever stayed at or even just driven by a B&B in any other town can tell you these regulations don’t, at all, allow for what one would consider a “traditional B&B.” You also can’t expect to turn a profit under these regulations, so how can you remotely claim that “traditional B&Bs” are allowed under current regulations? That claim has no support.

    I find it highly inappropriate that you, as a Council candidate, would think it perfectly fine to come to your blog and insult town staff for doing their jobs and that you would use misinformation and a misrepresentation of the facts of the underlying ordinances to do it, without even providing a citation of the ordinance you reference. It’s hard for people to know if what you say is supported by the facts when you don’t provide your sources.

    Town staff spend every day with the regulations and ordinances of this town. It’s their job to enforce these regulations and to provide Council with the guidance they ask for in revising and improving these ordinances. Our elected officials should, at a minimum, respect and appreciate the hard work that town staff do every day to make our town a better place to live. Your post shows that you do not hold this respect or appreciation for town staff.

    Since you failed to do provide it, here is the full regulation for “home occupation” uses. I’m sure your readers can draw the correct conclusions from reading it as opposed to just reading your post.

    + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

    Home occupation: An occupation conducted as an accessory use of a dwelling unit, provided that:

    (a) Home occupations shall have a limit of one full-time equivalent employee who is not a member of the family residing in the home with the home occupation; “Full-time equivalent employee” refers to one or more employees who work a total of no more than forty (40) combined hours on-site per week;

    (b) The use of the dwelling unit or accessory buildings for the home occupation shall be clearly incidental and subordinate to the use of the property for residential purposes, and not more than thirty-five (35) per cent nor more than seven hundred fifty (750) square feet of the floor area of the dwelling unit and any accessory buildings combined shall be used in the conduct of the home occupations; provided, that the floor area defined as used in the home occupation is the area dedicated to or primarily used for the home occupation, and does not include areas incidentally used for the home occupation;

    (c) No external evidence of the conduct of the home occupation, including commercial signs, shall be visible;

    (d) Traffic and parking regulations;

    (1) The home occupation shall not generate traffic volumes or parking area needs greater than would normally be expected in the residential neighborhood.

    (2) In addition, normally there shall be no more than three (3) vehicles parked at any time on- or off-street for non-residential purposes including but not limited to parking by non-resident employees, customers, delivery services, etc.; but excluding drop-offs and pick-ups. Home occupations for arts education or similar educational purposes are exempt from any parking restrictions.

    (3) There shall be no regular pick-up and delivery by vehicles other than those of a size normally used for household deliveries.

    (e) No equipment or process shall be employed that will cause noise, vibration, odor, glare, or electrical or communication interference detectable to the normal senses off the lot in the case of detached dwelling units, or outside the dwelling unit in the case of attached dwelling units;

    (f) The on-premises sale and delivery of goods which are not the products of the home occupation are prohibited, except that the sale of goods which are incidental to a service of the home occupation is permitted;

    (g) A zoning compliance permit is issued for the home occupation(s). The permit shall describe the nature of the business and include the applicant’s certification that the home occupation will be conducted in accord with the Land Use Management Ordinance and other applicable laws and ordinances. The town manager may revoke a zoning compliance permit for a home occupation if he/she determines the conditions were being violated. Once a home occupation permit has been granted, it shall remain in effect until: (1) it is revoked by the town; (2) the home occupation is terminated by the resident or residents for one hundred eighty (180) or more days; or (3) the holder of the permit moves from the residence.

  2. Nancy

     /  October 5, 2015

    Thanks for pasting in the LUMO text. A correction to your comment: D(2) reads that the residence can have up to 3 non-resident vehicles, so that would allow three guests with cars. The ordinance is well-written to protect neighborhood life. I support it. I’ve heard real estate agents complain that homeowners aren’t upgrading their homes. Why should they, only to have the town turn a beautiful, quiet, residential neighborhood into a bustling commercial area? Town staff, the current Town Council and Chamber of Commerce staff forget that the value of a home is more than the tax revenue it brings in. For the homeowner, it is a haven. I am a strong supporter of protecting that haven.

  3. Chloe

     /  October 5, 2015

    Is it really insulting to ask public servants to uphold the public trust with competence and integrity? The fact is that over the last several months, the Planning Department staff have repeatedly given wrong information to the public, to the Historic District, to the Planning Commission and to the Town Council about the nature of the Town’s current regulations and the requirements of State laws relating to the B&B proposal. For example: the Town attorney on Monday told the Council that State law give the Town discretion over whether or not to require a potential B&B to be owner-occupied. But over the course of the summer the town staff have repeatedly insisted that they do NOT have that authority. They have used this alleged aspect of State law to explain their proposal’s lack of a owner-occupancy requirement. Seems to me the insult is to the Historic District Commission to the Planning Department and the public who have been asked to make policy decision with false information. False information provided–as Minerva helpfully points out–by people whose actual *job* is to know and facts and to present them honestly.

  4. Ian

     /  October 5, 2015

    Minerva– I wonder if you would be so kind as to share with all of us the basis of your apparently authoritative knowledge of the comparative economic viability of B&Bs with signs out front and those without signs out front? Perhaps AirBnB has data on this issue that would be illuminating. Also it would helpful to know something about the comparative profitability of a B&B and illegal multi-unit rental–since those, some of our Council Members are suggesting, are the alternatives between which we are being forced to choose.

  5. many

     /  October 5, 2015

    Having served on a planning board or two, I can tell you that successful B&Bs do not rely on street advertising anymore (if they ever did), rather they rely on web pages, travel sites and location based services.

    The erroneous reference to vehicles has already been pointed out.

    In fact the ordinance seems well tailored for small B&Bs.

    On one point we do agree; “…it’s their job to enforce these regulations and to provide Council with the guidance they ask for in revising and improving these ordinances.” That is the point of the posting isn’t it? If staff is not providing correct information then things should be tightened up a bit, don’t you think?

    Minerva, you have forsaken your name. You have an ax to grind and you are willing cross the line of truthfulness to do so. I wonder what your possible motivation could be?