Public hearing on Cape Charles STRs draws large crowd

April 30, 2024
cape charles STR meetings

A Town Hall meeting on how Cape Charles should regulate short term rentals(STRs) drew a capacity crowd with dozens of speakers Monday night at the Cape Charles Civic Center. Public comments lasted so long the batteries in the microphone died.

The night began with a brief overview from Town Manager John Hozey on the situation on the ground. Last summer the Town Council gave him orders to start researching STR regulations, which was given a high priority in a recent town survey. Hozey then put together an ad hoc committee, with no decision making powers, to formulate initial ideas to bring forward. These ideas, some more controversial than others, were brought to a joint meeting to the Town Council and Planning Commission. Of the more controversial of the ideas, including limiting the number of STRs in town, no concensus was reached at that meeting. The Town Hall meeting was called to gather more input from the community on the issue.

The Gordian knot of managing short term rentals versus community feelings is being dealt with across the nation: jobs, taxes, property values, housing, natural and unnatural market forces, property rights, neighbor’s rights and what type of town the residents want.

Cape Charles was built by and around the railroad in the late 1800s, a railroad which helped export the Shore’s agricultural and aquacultural produce for over a century, which made the Shore an economic powerhouse. As changing supply chains altered the nature of the Shore’s agriculture, usage of the railroad dried up before it was ultimately removed in 2021. Many of the Shore’s railroad towns are shrinking, yet Cape Charles has remained one of the bright economic spots of the Eastern Shore, built on a combination of tourism and retirees who were attracted to the small town atmosphere.

Those two groups were the two sides of the public comment on Monday night. Impassioned arguments were made on both sides.

“We won’t be at capacity until we have the population we had in the 1930s and 40s, when thousands of people lived and worked in this town,” said MJ Golibart, speaking in favor of being more accommodating to hotels and STRs. “And a lot of those people were transient, there were boarding houses and saloons, and I’m sure there were people who wanted to get rid of them. But the truth is we are no where near capacity, so the town should be encouraging hotels and STRs.”

On the other side were full time residents, mostly retirees, who had issues enjoying the town’s amenities during the busy summer and growing shoulder seasons.

“We moved here to have a walkable town, to go to restaurants and saloons and the beach and see sunsets, but its not a walkable town when you can’t get into those restaurants in the summer time and it’s enough to make me go home or out of town,” said Walter Bronson. “I think there is a saturation point and we are getting to that point… I do not advocate getting rid of it, but there needs to be a balance.”

No formal action is allowed to be taken at work session/town hall meetings. Town Manager Hozey said another committee meeting will be scheduled in the next few weeks.

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