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Some Seabrook Island residents call for cap on short-term rentals

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 4:29 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2021 at 7:45 PM EST
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SEABROOK ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - An ongoing battle over short-term rentals is brewing on Seabrook Island, where homeowners say uncontrolled growth of properties is affecting their quality of life.

Homeowners Ted Flerlage and Paul McLaughlin said although they do not want to end short-term rentals on the island, the effects of recent growth have prompted them to call for a cap on short-term rentals.

“If you come here in July, around July Fourth, as a resident walking out boardwalk one, let’s say, to north beach, there’s no space, and that is a rental issue,” Flerlage, who has lived on the island since March 2020, said. “That is a noise issue. It is a parking issue because every spot on the limited parking area is taken.”

‘Preserve Seabrook’ effort seeks short-term rental cap to protect ‘unique qualities’ of the island

The two homeowners have spearheaded the Preserve Seabrook effort. A letter sent to residents as part of the effort says concerns “center on the uncontrolled growth of short-term rentals, especially on streets where there are many full-time and private residential properties.”

“We aim to retain a reasonable offering of properties that can be rented by guests who love to visit and vacation on our beautiful island, while ensuring Seabrook does not gradually morph into a resort community,” the letter states. “We believe adding a cap on the number of resort properties on Seabrook would protect the unique qualities of our island while allowing revenue generated through rental properties to continue to flow back to the town through state and county accommodation taxes that the renters pay.”

Over 300 residents have signed a petition to cap the number of short-term rentals on the island, according to McLaughlin.

The petition seeks a single question on the Nov. 2, 2021 ballot that asks if voters support:

  • Affirming the current Single Family Residential zoning protections in any future zoning changes;
  • Establishing a cap on the maximum number of short-term rental licenses to 5% of developed properties within the residential areas as defined below; however on the streets in these residential areas greater than 20 developed properties, there shall be a cap of 5% of all developed properties on each street (included in this area are properties currently zoned Single Family Residential and the following regimes - Hidden Oaks, Marsh Creek, North Beach Village, St. Christopher Oaks, and the Village at Seabrook);
  • Establishing a maximum 20% licensing cap on the total number of developed lots/properties for the rest of the town;
  • Permitting any applicable properties holding a valid short-term rental license to be grandfathered and included in the licensing cap, unless the short-term rental property owner fails to renew his/her license by the required date or ceases to operate in an area fo where the number of short term rentals exceed the caps;
  • Not issuing new permits in those instances where the licensing cap is exceeded because of grandfathered properties, or for any other reason that keeps the number of short-term rental properties above the cap;
  • Prohibiting the transfer of short-term rental licenses to the subsequent owner(s) of the property, with the exception that intra-family property transfers can include the transfer of the short-term rental license for that property, provided it is not a sale of the property; and
  • Affirming neighborhoods, governed by regime covenants, having the authority to establish more restrictive caps or to prohibit short-term rentals in their regimes (the current regimes in this category include Haulover Point and Marsh Point)?

Town council waits for recommendations on petition, residents wait for answers

“Seabrook, when I bought here in 2002 and built our house here in 2009, it was more like ‘Cheers,’” McLaughlin said. “Everybody knew your name. Now, with the influx of 500 rental properties and growing, it’s changed a lot, and the quality of life on the island has changed a lot.”

Seabrook Island Mayor John Gregg said a petition from those calling for a cap has been sent to a committee, which will conduct a factual inquiry and then report to town council with recommendations.

“The object for the ad hoc committee was to identify inquiries of factual matters that could inform council as it considers whether or not it is warranted to do further regulation,” Gregg said.

The mayor added that to operate a short-term rental on the island, homeowners need to have a business license and a permit from the town.

McLaughlin and Flerlage said they welcome the data-driven effort but want more communication from the town and to work with them on a solution.

“Our question to them: What is the tipping point? If 500 isn’t the tipping point, is it 600? Is it 700? Is it 800? So, in the meantime, we need to figure it out,” McLaughlin said. “We need to halt what’s going on. Everybody keeps what they currently have, and we study the problem, and we figure out what the solution would be. We don’t make the problem worse while continuing to study it.”

“These are people who live in South Carolina and vote in South Carolina who live on the island and vote on the island,” Flerlage said. “These are the people who are their direct constituents – the people who vote for the mayor and the town council. It’s more than 300 of those people who signed up, which is nearly as many as who voted for them in the last election on Nov. 2, and in our opinion, there has been no communication and we’ve been getting fairly short-tripped on the issue.”

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