SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners this week approved three of the four bills needed to implement a countywide rental license program.
The commissioners on Tuesday approved updated language for three bills tied to a countywide rental license program. They asked staff to continue working on a fourth bill, however, which addresses zoning regulations in regard to a countywide program.
“I agree with 90% of this legislation,” Commissioner Bud Church said. “There are some very big issues. I’ve been here for 17 years and I can’t say this to be a fact but I think I’ve had more questions and concerns about this legislation than I’ve had on maybe the top two or three issues.”
During a public hearing on the proposed legislation, citizens voiced various concerns with the bill as proposed. Joe Wilson of the Coastal Association of Realtors said he was afraid it would infringe on a property owner’s right to rent their property and could hurt Worcester County’s chances as a vacation destination. He said he didn’t object to the concept of a license but wanted to be sure it didn’t keep people from being able to rent their homes. Wilson pointed out that as proposed, a short-term rental under county code would be a rental under 28 days.
“A 28-day rental is not short-term,” he said, adding that most short-term rentals were for less than seven days.
Rico DiMattia, a longtime Pocomoke real estate agent, said he worked with property owners who had investment properties.
“When you make that a little more difficult to be involved in I think that has a ripple effect,” he said.
An Ocean Pines resident told the commissioners he’d bought and renovated a house in his neighborhood and now rented it out. He said he advertises it as having room for 15 people in five bedrooms. The bill under consideration would limit lodgers to two per bedroom and would limit the number of families renting a dwelling to one.
“I think it’s a bad idea to put restrictions on the number of people in a house,” he said.
Following the public hearing, Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, citing concerns with the bill, made a motion to table it. The motion failed, however, with just he and Church voting in favor of it.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic made a motion to approve the bill, arguing that it would ensure consistency among rentals in unincorporated Worcester County. Commissioner Jim Bunting agreed and said it would help preserve neighborhood character.
Commissioner Chip Bertino, however, said he thought limits on the number of lodgers should be based on square feet, not on a per-bedroom basis. He also addressed the idea that neighborhoods needed protection from rentals. He said he’d spent years attending board meetings as a newspaper reporter and editor in Ocean Pines, the county’s largest community.
“Not once has a problem with rental units been to the board and believe me, people in Ocean Pines will complain about anything, including the price of iced tea at the yacht club,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Elder said he agreed with Bertino regarding the proposed limits on lodgers.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s business who’s sleeping with who,” he said.
When Mitrecic’s motion to approve the bill failed with four commissioners — Bertino, Church, Nordstrom and Elder — opposed, Bertino made a motion to have staff work to address the concerns brought up Tuesday. That motion passed 6-1 with Bunting opposed.