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County hesitant on Westport action

Staff Writer

Members of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners expressed some hesitancy during their meeting Monday night to pursue regulations regarding vacation rental homes within the county after receiving an update on complaints stemming from one such property in the Westport community of Denver.
As previously reported, Westport homeowners had aired their frustrations regarding noise, loud parties and an abundance of trash and cars coming from a home on Howard Lane that is currently being rented out to large groups of people on a weekend and weekly basis.
After looking into the situation further over the last couple of weeks, County Attorney Wesley Deaton told commissioners that there was little the county could do from a legal standpoint or through the Unified Development Ordinance.
Deaton noted that the county could look at both defining and regulating vacation rentals, but even then that would not affect the current situation in the Westport community.
“You can’t retroactively stop something that’s already there,” he told the board, adding that the Howard Lane property would be grandfathered in with certain vested rights.
Kelly Atkins, director of the Planning and Inspections Department, reiterated that their hands were tied from a zoning standpoint, but he noted that they were in the process of inspecting the property and pursuing various permit violations and that they had drafted proposed regulations. He also said there are 14 similar rentals in the county, though Zoning Administrator Randy Hawkins noted that there hadn’t been a problem until now.
Chairman Alex Patton expressed some concern about moving forward with regulations because of “one irresponsible owner” and questioned whether that was going overboard.
“We’re not going to help the folks we’re trying to help,” he added.
Commissioner George Arena expressed similar sentiments and recommended that the planning staff keep pursuing violations and that the homeowners look into whether a civil suit would be possible.
Though commissioners discussed whether potential regulations would restrict vacation rentals in the county based on residential zoning classes or time restraints for renting, they ultimately held off on making that decision.
Commissioner Jim Klein suggested looking into options from a law-enforcement perspective, with Patton also recommending meeting with the Sheriff to “strengthen his position” in regulating the situation.
Atkins said his staff would meet with the Planning Board and Deaton to bring back a formal recommendation to commissioners.
Also at Monday’s meeting, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the Planning Board’s recommendation to deny a conditional-use permit request from applicant Bobby Smith to operate an Internet sweepstakes center on old N.C. 16 in Catawba Springs Township, about 900 feet south of Unity Church Road.
The Planning Board had voted 6-2 to recommend denying the request, with several nearby business owners and residential neighbors having expressed concern at the last meeting about the proposed center.
Additionally, an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance requested by Floyd West, owner of Klassic Rides in Denver, regarding road façade requirements in existing industrial parks was approved with a 4-1 vote, with Arena opposed because of his concern with how it would affect parks with their own, higher development standards.
In other board action at Monday’s meeting:
Commissioners unanimously approved the bylaws for the Lincoln County Community Friends Corporation.
Commissioners unanimously signed off on renewing and extending the county’s lease with the United Way of Lincoln County.
Commissioners unanimously approved a vehicle-maintenance pilot program with the Lincoln County Board of Education’s central garage for work on the Sheriff’s Department fleet.
Commissioners unanimously approved a $554,923 exterior restoration and rehabilitation contract, using donated funding, for repairs to the Mundy House.
Commissioners conducted a closed session regarding a personnel-related matter, but took no action.
County Manager George Wood presented a general overview of his proposed 2012-2013 budget to commissioners, who will discuss it in more detail during a work session tonight at 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Economic Development Association on East Main Street in Lincolnton.

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