Farmers criticizing Charleston Co.’s push to strengthen short-term rental regulations

VIDEO: Farmers criticizing Charleston Co.’s push to strengthen short-term rental regulations

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County planning officials are finalizing a proposal that would strengthen the area’s short-term rental ordinance and increase penalties for property owners renting without a permit.

The suggested changes follow a battle between some Wadmalaw residents and the owners of Bolt Farm Treehouse.

The business requested zoning changes last year to add more homes to their property for short-term renters and hoped to rent them year-round, rather than the maximum 72 days currently allowed in Charleston County.

People who live in the area feared that zoning changes could lead to more development and alter the character of the island.

However, the agritourism industry and the state’s Department of Agriculture are critical of the county’s push to increase regulations over short term rentals.

“Farming is a rewarding business, but it can be an uncertain one, too. Agritourism is a way for South Carolina’s family farms to supplement their farming income and teach visitors about agriculture,” SCDA’s Communications Director Eva Moore wrote to county planning commissioners in July. “The proposed changes to Charleston County’s short-term rental ordinance would place serious administrative and financial burdens on farms that welcome guests for overnight farm stays. These include higher fees, an annual permitting process, and additional requirements like aerial photos. Charleston County and the state Legislature have both showed their support for agritourism in the past, and we know the region benefits from the rich, diverse experiences offered by agritourism farms. I ask the Planning Commission to consider the impact these revisions would have on hardworking farmers, and exempt agricultural zoning from these proposed new restrictions.”

The proposed changes would limit the number of days per year a property can be rented, permitting fees would be doubled, and property owners could be fined $500 for operating without a permit.

“Charleston County is making it more difficult for farmers to supplement their income," SC Agritourism Association board member Gale Smith said. "It’s going to discourage farms, and I think it’s going to make it even more difficult for people to farm in Charleston County. I don’t think Charleston County wants to be considered farm unfriendly, but if they start implementing these regulations and if they don’t exempt farms from that, I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

County Council will consider the changes next week for a first reading on Sept. 22.

Since Charleston County first adopted its short-term regulations in 2018, the county has hired a code enforcement officer and has been using software to track short-term rental advertisements and identify properties operating in violation of the STR ordinance. However, the cost of enforcing the law has been higher than officials expected, according to the planning commission’s agenda for Sept. 17.

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