You can just imagine the advertisements:
Return to a time and place that is truly GONE WITH THE WIND!
Sip mint juleps on your very own piazza while gazing across Charleston Harbor to Fort Sumter, standing silent sentinel over the city.
Wave to the passersby on The Battery. Was that Mary Chesnut?
At night, stroll gas-lit cobblestone streets to some of the Old South’s finest restaurants before returning to a private ballroom to dance the Virginia Reel with 60 of your most colorful, and rowdy, friends.
Retire to one of six spacious bedrooms in a painstakingly preserved antebellum mansion (complete with modern amenities), then have breakfast the next morning in a private, walled courtyard.
Return to yesteryear with a vacation rental home in historic Charleston, South Carolina. Maximum number of guests: 24ish. Parking spaces: 1/2. Bridal showers and bachelor parties welcome. Per week, $14,995.
Note: Household staff and “Rhett Butler” available for an additional fee.
That could have been Charleston’s future ... and still might be.
Since the internet house rental market exploded, thousands of local properties have shown up on the likes of HomeAway and Airbnb. Hard to blame folks — it’s a good way to make a quick buck, which is always handy in a market where the rent is so steep.
But the city put a stop to renting out entire houses last week with a new short-term rental ordinance. It’s strident, to be sure, limiting the number of guests to four and requiring owners to live in the house … even when they have renters.
And that’s prompted a sizeable backlash from the property rights crowd. It is inherently more profitable to rent out entire houses because you can host more people and charge more money. And one of the perks of this system is leasing out your own home while you go on vacation.
Some of the people paying attention to this simply want to know why the city is meddling in personal commerce. Well, if that was the only thing going on, it wouldn't be a big deal.
The city’s ordinance was designed to stop people looking for second homes — and out-of-state investment firms — from buying up our housing stock and turning neighborhoods into off-the-grid hotel districts. Which has already happened.
Last year, the city sued an Illinois company for running all-night parties out of a South of Broad house.
Charleston has never had a law to combat these short-term rentals, which drive up market prices, violate the spirit of zoning laws — and are a pain in The Battery for people who live near these party palaces.
Still, opponents have made enough noise that City Council already is studying a list of possible exemptions. They need to be careful here not to create loopholes big enough to shove the Calhoun Mansion through, because there's a fundamental question at stake:
Is Charleston going to be a living, breathing city — or a historic theme park?
The new law doesn't make anyone entirely happy.
It's too strict for the wannabe investors and second-home owners, and it's too lax on parking-space requirements for neighbors.
But it could be dangerous to fiddle with this too much. Mayor John Tecklenburg — who gets credit for pushing this year-long process, complete with a citizen review panel — is not inclined to be overly generous with exemptions.
Although there are questions about heirs' property (which doesn’t fall into the eligible owner-occupied tax bracket) that deserve consideration, the mayor believes the law does what it should.
“This is all about our livability,” Tecklenburg says. “We don’t want to prevent someone from making a few bucks to make repairs or stay in their home, but we can’t let it get out of control and threaten our neighborhoods.”
That is a most reasonable position, one City Council should follow.
This affects everyone, even people who have no interest in renting out their home. People harping on property rights need to remember that goes both ways. When a family buys a place in a neighborhood, zoning gives them a reasonable right to expect another family next door — not the cast of The Bachelor.
There are enough problems with affordable, and available, housing in Charleston without having title to most of the peninsula sitting in a file cabinet on Michigan Avenue.
You know, Charleston has spent much of its nearly 350-year history grousing about outside agitators — real and imagined.
Now isn't the time for people to just give in to those folks and say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.