As it prepares a major overhaul of all of its zoning rules, the City of Richmond is moving forward on a trio of proposed changes to regulations relating to short-term home rentals, accessory dwelling units and minimum parking requirements.
In a virtual meeting Tuesday, city planners presented their draft recommendations for changes to those specific regulations, based on research and community outreach and feedback that started with a series of meetings in August.
For the Airbnb-style short-term home rentals, or STRs, the recommendations would eliminate a primary residency requirement in which operators must reside at the property being rented for at least half the year.
Instead, STRs would be permissible in any dwelling in any of the city’s zoning districts, but with a distance requirement separating the unit from another STR at a non-primary residence. The specific distance between units remains to be determined but planners said the distance would fluctuate according to lot sizes in a given district.
For multifamily dwellings with three or more units, only a third of the units could be permitted as STRs – or no more than 10 units, whichever is less.
Other existing regulations would remain the same, with STRs allowed as entire units or up to five individual rooms with no limit on the number of nights rented; no more than one booking transaction per unit during the same period; and a $300 permit required biennially.
The recommendations also call for more staffing for STR permitting and enforcement, adding a fine or penalty for noncompliance that increases with multiple violations, collection of transient occupancy tax on units, and requiring an inspection of the unit.
The primary residency requirement had been a point of contention for operators who rent out more than one property. In drafting the rules that are currently in place, officials had said the requirement was needed to prevent the possibility of operators buying up multiple properties in residential districts and using them as essentially mini-hotels.
For accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, staff recommends permitting one ADU by-right on the same property as a single-family dwelling in all zoning districts that allow such dwellings. Additional ADUs on the same property could be allowable but would require a special-use permit or other exception from the city.
Also referred to as accessory apartments, secondary suites or “granny flats,” ADUs could be internal or attached to the home, or detached; could not exceed one-third of the floor area of the dwelling, or 500 square feet, whichever is greater; and must comply with existing zoning regarding setbacks, lot coverage, height and other regulations.
Use of an ADU as an STR would require approvals for both. ADUs are viewed as allowing individuals to age in place, accommodating people with special needs, creating lower-priced housing and providing residents with rental opportunities to supplement income.
For parking space minimums, the recommendation is to eliminate that requirement from the zoning ordinance entirely, meaning property owners would no longer be required to provide a certain amount of off-street parking based on number of dwelling units or commercial floor area.
Planner Brian Mercer clarified that the change does not mean the city is no longer allowing parking; it’s just not dictating how many parking spaces would be needed on a particular property. That decision would be left to property owners and developers, who Mercer said have shown they’re willing to provide well beyond the required minimums to adequately serve their projects.
Eliminating the minimums, Mercer said, is meant to reflect current trends in parking use, simplify the regulatory process, support multimodal transportation, reduce costs on businesses and housing, and potentially encourage redevelopment of parking lots across the city.
The recommendations also call for continuing to expand transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, such as the GRTC Pulse rapid transit bus line and bike lanes in the city; promote shared parking, such as opening up office parking decks that could support evening users; revising residential on-street parking permit programs; and periodically assessing curbside time limits.
Years in the works, the zoning changes follow up on recommendations included in the city’s master plan and requests from City Council members. The STR changes fulfill a process started in January aimed at revising Richmond’s rules for regulating the Airbnb-style rentals, most of which the city considers noncompliant and illegal.
In January, the Planning Commission approved a resolution of intent to amend the rules and revisit certain regulations, including the primary residency requirement. The commission had been slated to consider amendments to the rules last summer, having adopted them in mid-2020 with the caveat that they would be revisited to review their effectiveness.
The recommendations open up a public comment period that’s scheduled to run until Jan. 2, 2023. A public comment form to provide feedback can be found on the city’s website. Additional meetings on the proposals are scheduled Thursday and next Tuesday and are also detailed on the site.
Staff expects to then draft individual ordinances for each of the proposed changes for presentation to the Planning Commission and City Council, which could adopt them by mid-2023. Planners said the changes are being pursued separately but could be lumped into the city’s planned zoning ordinance rewrite, if desired by city leaders.
The city is preparing to start a two-year process to rewrite the entire ordinance – an effort aimed to update zoning requirements to better reflect current development trends and goals. The process would start with creation of a citywide development pattern book and frameworks for a new zoning ordinance and zoning districts, followed by a drafting of the new ordinance in the second year.
The city is preparing a solicitation to request proposals from consultants, one or more of which could be selected to conduct the rewrite.