ROCKINGHAM — History repeated itself Tuesday night as residents again came out against a proposal to allow bed and breakfast inns in the Historic District.
“This change will destroy the character of the Historic District, converting it instead to a B&B district by allowing up to 16 homes on Fayetteville Road in a two-block area to become B&B’s,” said Woody Gunter, as he read a petition from 27 Historic District residents.
The longtime Rockingham attorney and Fayetteville Road resident was the first of eight to speak out during a public hearing.
The hearing was an opportunity for input on the request from the planning board to amend the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to allow bed and breakfast inns as a conditional use in the moderate density residential R9 zone district inside the local historic district. R9 currently does not allow B&B operation while several other zoning districts do allow this business type.
Residents fought a similar proposal in 1994.
City Planner John Massey said conditional use would mean applications would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the city’s board of adjustment and appeals.
Recommendations for this amendment include limiting to eight the number of guest rooms to be rented out where in other districts the current limit is 12. A three-quarter-acre minimum lot size limit is also part of the proposal to allow for adequate parking and buffer to adjacent properties. The footprint of the home could not be increased to allow additional rooms as well.
When asked by Councilman John Hutchinson about how a bed and breakfast inn varies from Airbnb — an online company that helps property owners to rent out space to travelers — in terms of regulations, Massey replied, “Airbnb can’t be regulated from a zoning standpoint, there’s no practical way to regulate someone renting rooms over the internet.”
With a bed and breakfast, Massey said state law requires the owner or manager to be a permanent resident of the home.
“Someone responsible for the operation has to reside there,” he said.
In addition to Gunter, Holleigh McLaurin spoke against the amendment.
“If anyone here could say they are an expert at living in a historic house it would be me,” she said in a passionate plea.
McLaurin spoke of fond memories of growing up in the Historic District. Following college and living away for a time, she now resides again in Rockingham’s Historic District.
She expressed concern with the new age of short-term rentals (Airbnb) taking the place of bed and breakfast inns and her belief that, once this begins here, it would be hard to stop.
McLaurin, a realtor since 2005, authored an opinion letter with fellow realtor Debra Parsons that was delivered to council during the meeting.
Christopher Brisson, who moved to Rockingham 18 months ago from Los Angeles, California, spoke in favor of the amendment. Brisson, who said he holds a Master’s degree in Architectural History, has been attending council meetings for about a year.
Admittedly, he has no personal stake in the issue but said, “I’m glad I came tonight, all I heard was provincialism, paranoia and presumption.”
Brisson said when he was looking for real estate in Rockingham, he tried to find a bed and breakfast to stay in but was only able to find a less-than-desirable motel.
In contrast to others who spoke, Brisson said he believes those who would come to patronize a bed and breakfast will be better educated and financially better-off people.
“With a bed and breakfast, you are getting a level of regulation,” he said. “That same person could come buy a house and rent out rooms on Airbnb and you’ll have no power or control over it at all.”
After hearing from the remaining concerned residents, council members spoke one by one, each understanding of the concerns of the residents of the historic district but not willing to close the door on the rezoning request.
After much discussion, a motion was made to table the issue to a later date with notification to property owners prior to further action by the council.