Use of Meadowbrook home as Airbnb raises zoning questions
Published 9:28 am Thursday, November 18, 2021
By EMILY SPARACINO | Staff Writer
PELHAM – A case the Shelby County Planning Commission heard on Monday, Nov. 15 involving the operation of an Airbnb in the Meadowbrook neighborhood is moving on to the Shelby County Commission.
Planning Commission members spent more than an hour listening to comments and asking questions about the case, which appeared on the meeting agenda as a zoning violation enforcement action concerning the operation of a rooming house or short-term rental in a single-family home located at 3605 Cumberland Trace in Meadowbrook, a residential neighborhood zoned Special District in unincorporated Shelby County.
Shelby County’s zoning regulations define a rooming house as “a building other than a hotel where lodging for three or more persons, not of the immediate family, is provided for definite periods and for compensation and by prearrangement for definite periods,” according to a report from the Shelby County Department of Development Services.
“This land use is a violation of the zoning ordinance,” the report reads. “While the existing structure is a single-family residence, the current land use is a rooming house or short-term rental that is actually an R-4, Multiple Dwelling district use. A rooming house or short-term rental is not a permitted use within the SD, Special District (Meadowbrook Residential Neighborhood).”
The report notes “rooming house” is a somewhat antiquated term that has been replaced with the popular term “Airbnb” since the advent of the online short-term rental websites including Airbnb.com, VRBO.com, HomeToGo.com and others.
“In this case, it’s not necessarily an occupancy issue, but the way in which the single-family residence is provided for use as a quasi-hotel, rooming house, tourist home,” Development Services Supervisor Sharman Brooks said.
According to the case history, Development Services received a formal complaint on Aug. 2 from the Meadowbrook Homeowners’ Association via email regarding multiple families occupying the residence.
“The complainant indicated that the activity appears to be similar to a hotel or an Airbnb,” the report reads. “An inquiry case was created, and an investigation began. A review of the complaint revealed the property owners had passed away and that Crosby O’Hare (family representative/rental host) posted the property as a short-term rental on the Airbnb and VRBO websites.”
In mid-August, Development Services staff spoke to a family representative regarding the short-term rental land use, in what zoning district the short-term rental use is permitted, and the enforcement process if the property is found to be in violation.
The first Notice of Violation letter was mailed to the property owner of record, the late Brian and Alice Hare, on Aug. 24, and then a copy of the NOV letter was mailed to Crosby O’Hare’s address in New York City.
Department of Development Services received no response from him, and subsequent NOV letters were mailed to him in September and October, according to the report. Meanwhile, the property continued to be listed as an available short-term rental on both Airbnb and VRBO.
“Mr. O’Hare was notified in writing four times that the operation of a rooming house or short-term rental in the Meadowbrook single-family residential neighborhood, zoned SD, Special District, is a violation of the zoning ordinance,” the report reads. “As of Nov. 5, there has been no response from Mr. O’Hare. It appears that the property has been removed from both the Airbnb and VRBO websites; however, staff cannot confirm the activity has ceased in order to correct said violation.”
Brooks said Development Services has received several written comments from residents that were provided in email and hard copy form to Planning Commission members.
In addition, a civil suit brought by Meadowbrook neighbors is pending.
Birmingham attorney James Harris, the applicant’s lawyer, and Peter O’Hare, one of the brothers who are beneficiaries of the Hare estate, attended the meeting.
Harris said Crosby O’Hare, the executor of the estate, was out of the country when the NOV letters were mailed to his New York address.
“There’s a lot of speculation and what-ifs, but I want to address the other hundreds of Shelby County homes that have Airbnb and VRBO,” Harris said. “It exists, and it’s going to exist where it’s not prohibited, and it’s going to exist where HOAs don’t act to prohibit it. That’s all we’re dealing with here, is a subdivision that doesn’t have prohibitions that eliminate it. There’s already one lawsuit; I don’t think we need another one if there’s no basis in the zoning for enforcement.”
Several Meadowbrook residents spoke in opposition to the Airbnb operating in the home. Their primary concerns related to the lack of background checks on people who stay there, excessive noise late at night, suspicious activity from unknown individuals, vehicles parked on the street and blocking residents’ driveways, trash left on neighboring properties, and the general safety of the neighborhood’s permanent residents.
“My request of the Commission is to listen to all these homeowners who have been there and not the absentee owner in New York who doesn’t live here, and not impose his will against the zoning to hurt all these residents here,” Meadowbrook resident Johnny Padgett said.
County Attorney Bill Justice said there are legal differences in covenant enforcement and zoning enforcement, and the Planning Commission cannot enforce neighborhood covenants under the law.
“The question before you is does this comply with a single-family dwelling use of the property,” Justice said. “Do you consider this type of short-term rental to be a single-family dwelling use or not?”
Planning Commission member James Davis made a motion to send the case to the Shelby County Commission, and said, “The evidence and the testimony support the referral of the case to the County Commission for consideration of the referral to the county attorney for legal action to enforce the zoning ordinance.”
All Planning Commission members present at the meeting – Joseph Little, Kenneth Wilder, Bill Norton and Davis – voted in favor of the motion.
The case is listed on the Shelby County Commission’s agenda for Monday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m.