Three distinct regions make up Lewes: historic district, downtown and the beach. History buffs, foodies and beachgoers can all enjoy the amenities of Lewes. However, maintaining the characteristics of the three zones involves flexibility when establishing rules and regulations meant to preserve integrity and efficiency throughout the city.
With regard to fairness, the short-term rental ad hoc committee has decided that regulations produced from their work will be universally applicable throughout Lewes. While discussing Lewes Beach during the July 26 meeting, committee members examined quality-of-life challenges and any tools that could help achieve goals in the region.
Trash removal, recycling, policing and traffic are a few of the issues being examined to determine how quality of life has been impacted. According to City Manager Ann Marie Townshend, the city has expenses that require financial and departmental commitments as a result of the increase in rentals. Recently, officials considered dropping trash collection from twice to once a week, but they found they would be unable to do so due to the amount of rentals. Employing the necessary number of public safety and other government support staff to accommodate the influx of people also adds to city expenditures, she said.
The costs could be offset by the income generated by the gross rental receipts tax, set at 5% in 2009. Officials say revenue from the tax has increased over the last few years, but currently the city does not differentiate between short-term and long-term rentals. About 450 rental licenses were renewed for fiscal year 2022, but the exact number of renters using a real estate company, digital platform or operating independently is not known. Committee members agreed it would be useful to have an inventory of rentals across the city. It is not yet known if blame for problems raised by the public fall directly on short-term rentals, nor have they determined if revenue from the gross rental receipts tax is enough to cover increased spending to address the problems.
Residents, some operating a short-term rental, are worried about any restrictions placed on their ability to generate income from their property. Committee members reiterated at the July 26 meeting that they are looking to draft an ordinance that benefits everyone, including those needing rental income to maintain and own their properties. There was no discussion on eliminating or restricting short-term rentals on Lewes Beach or in any of the other regions.
Density, however, could create different circumstances for short-term rentals. Some Lewes Beach residents do not believe their problems stem from short-term rentals, but rather the parking situation. Other Lewes Beach residents believe the communities on Lewes Beach provide plenty of parking for residents and guests. While parking is not within the scope of the committee, the group can analyze density limitations in the various regions. Lewes Beach may have a different limit than downtown Lewes or the historic district. Airbnb and Vrbo have occupancy limits based on the number of bedrooms available; committee members have discussed a formula for parking based on the occupancy limit and combined with the amount of off-street parking available on site. No decision was made on parking, but committee members agreed that it would not be fair to have a different set of criteria for each region on anything that isn’t in the interest of public safety.
Lewes Historic Preservation Architectural Review Commission Vice Chair George Thomasson, who is also president of the Sussex County Association of Realtors, said he believes trash and parking problems do not stem from renters, but day trippers. Laurie Carter, who lives on Bay Avenue, added to Thomasson’s complaint by saying she saw people parked on public property doing unspeakable things July 4 in front of her house. Thomasson favored the adoption of a parking permit system.
Councilwoman Carolyn Jones, who chairs the committee, repeatedly thanked members of the public for contributing to the meeting, but said they have a specific set of criteria to look at and a limited amount of time in which to produce an ordinance. Jones said the committee will stay on task. In order to facilitate public comments, the city has created a webpage dedicated to short-term rentals. A link to an official comment form can be found at ci.lewes.de.us/352/short-term-rentals, allowing members of the public to provide the committee with information they feel is pertinent.
The group will reconvene at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 9, at city hall. Members will discuss downtown Lewes, which was originally for Aug. 2, but the meeting was canceled.