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                               Louisa County Short-Term Rentals

Final Louisa County Short-Term Rental Ordinance

Last Monday, October 2, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors passed short-term rental (STR) regulations on a 5-2 vote after nearly two years of debate and discussion.  The ordinance provides STR operation by-right in residential areas if certain conditions are met.  This applies to the vast majority of STR’s at Lake Anna.  STR’s operated in agriculturally zoned areas are not subject to these rules per the ruling of the Attorney General earlier this year. (FAAR)

STR operators in residential areas must meeting the following conditions:

  • provide a point of contact for their property to Louisa County and its subdivision’s governing body, if applicable;

  • provide to tenants a copy of Louisa County code sections pertaining to noise and solid waste as well as the definitions for Special Occasion Facilities and Gatherings as part of short-term rental contracts.

  • inform tenants that using the property for a special event typically held at a special occasion facility—a wedding, for example—is prohibited unless the property has a valid Conditional Use Permit;

  • provide to Louisa County documentation of septic system inspections and repairs whenever they are completed, if applicable;

  • comply with all applicable state health department, building code and safety regulations.

STR owners unable to meet these requirements are prohibited from operating a short-term rental unless they obtain a Conditional Use Permit from the Board of Supervisors.  

Louisa County Short -Term Rental Ordinance
STR Ordinance

September 17, 2023

PC rejects draft short-term rental regulations, recommends substitute ordinance

The Louisa County Planning Commission on Thursday night recommended that the Board of Supervisors adopt rules for short-term lodging that could shake up the vacation rental market at Lake Anna.

Commissioners voted unanimously to reject a draft short-term rental ordinance sent to them by supervisors in June that would permit property owners in residential zoning in the county’s growth areas to rent dwellings for 30 day or less by-right with some restrictions. The commission instead suggested that the board adopt far tighter regulations.

In a 6-1 vote, commissioners recommended that supervisors require STR owners in most residential zoning (R-1, R-2), inside or outside of growth areas, to obtain a Conditional Use Permit. The CUP process typically requires a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors and an up-or-down vote by the board. Louisa District Commissioner Manning Woodward was the only member to oppose the substitute proposal.

The commission’s recommendation came after a series of meetings where members discussed the proposed regulations that they ultimately rejected, expressing concerns that they failed to address issues raised by community members impacted by STRs.  The draft was crafted by county officials behind closed doors after a public stakeholders’ group, formed last year, couldn’t agree on how to move forward.

Broadly, the draft would allow STRs by-right with some general restrictions in residential (R-1, R-2) and resort development zoning in growth areas, permit the rentals by-right with no restrictions in agricultural zoning and require STR operators to obtain a CUP in other zoning districts. The restrictions would require STR owners to provide contact information to the county, offer one off-street parking space per bedroom and space for a trailer, and submit to the county any work or inspections done on a dwelling’s septic system, among other rules. 

Before motioning to recommend that supervisors reject the draft, Cuckoo District Commissioner George Goodwin said he didn’t see how it benefitted the community. 

“I’m going to go back to the Zoning Administrator’s presentation, Mr. (Josh) Gillespie. He had three slides. One was reasons for the ordinance. One was strategic goals, and one was benefits of the proposed ordinance. What was listed was quality of life, public health and safety, and compatibility. I gotta say I don’t see what has been presented to us as addressing any of those issues,” Goodwin said, referencing a presentation by county staff earlier in the meeting. 

Commissioners also voiced concern about allowing a commercial use in residential neighborhoods by-right with only broad restrictions.    

“What we have before us is not specific enough. I think we’ve got some work to do…we’ve got to have clear guidelines on what can be done since it’s going to be a by-right use (in some) residential zoning,” Mountain Road District Commissioner Gordon Brooks said.

For over a year, county officials have struggled with how to regulate short-term lodging, which has exploded in popularity in recent years especially around Lake Anna. Currently, county code doesn’t explicitly permit the use, meaning STRs technically require a Conditional Use Permit. But the county hasn’t enforced that rule and more than 460 rentals operate here, per figures from the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office, largely free of official oversight. More than 90 percent of the rentals are clustered around Lake Anna, according to county staff, mostly in residential neighborhoods in the Lake Anna Growth Area. 

The proliferation of STRs in lakeside neighborhoods has stirred controversy. Some year-round residents have argued that the rentals are businesses operating in residential areas and threaten the character of their community, public safety and the health of the lake. They’ve expressed particular concern that overcrowded STRs could lead to failing septic systems that harm the lake’s water quality and pushed for a two-person per bedroom occupancy cap, a standard generally in accord with state health department guidelines for septic systems and the state building code. 

Many STR operators and members of the business community have taken a different view, contending that strictly regulated the rentals would decimate the local tourism industry and, in turn, hurt small businesses. In meetings last year, some strongly opposed the occupancy limit and the idea that STRs should require county approval via the CUP process. 

Community concerns

Both sides reiterated their concerns during Thursday night’s public hearing. Many of the 13 speakers urged the county to cap occupancy at two people per bedroom and impose regulations for septic system maintenance. They said the draft rules fail to address concerns that overtaxed septic systems are a long-term threat to the lake. Some argued that the draft does little to ensure public safety. 

“(The proposal) misses the elephant in the room: discharge of waste from overloaded septic systems, not just the smell, the damage that does to the lake,” said Christine Hunt, a resident of the Wyndemere subdivision in Spotsylvania County.

Hunt linked runoff from septic systems to the Harmful Algal Blooms that have plagued the upper end of the lake in recent years. While the causes of the blooms are complex, they’re generally attributed to excess phosphorus and nitrogen, nutrients that can come for sewage systems, fertilizer and other sources. 

“It starts with an algae bloom…and gets worse. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus is leeching and running off into the lake. It will be the end of the Lake Anna cash cow. It’s in danger of being sacrificed,” she said. 

Larry Zemke, president of the Windwood Coves Homeowners Association, echoed Hunt, saying that septic system failure is a significant threat to the lake and noting that a two-bedroom STR in his neighborhood routinely advertises that it sleeps more than 10 people. “That’s a lot of butts on the seats in a very compressed period of time,” Zemke quipped. 

“A septic system failure in my community will find its way into the lake. Many of the area lake businesses look to the lake as a goldmine for revenue and profit. But what happens when the lake starts to stink? How many years of cleanup will be required before the goldmine returns to full operation,” he said.

Harry Looney, speaking on behalf of the 850-member Lake Anna Civic Association (LACA), said that the organization doesn’t oppose STRs but supports limits that comport with “state septic system permit and state building code levels of occupancy.”

 “With the HAB issues we experience each year at Lake Anna, we are especially sensitive to the issue of septic system overuse and, as important, overcrowded rental homes, with individuals sleeping in rooms without proper egress, pose significant safety issues to the visitors of the county,” Looney said. 

Some speakers warned the commission against allowing STRs as a by-right use in residential zoning, saying that it runs counter to current code.  

“The present ordinance doesn’t allow commercial activity in R-zoned districts and STRs are clearly a commercial entity. The new zoning proposal would allow by-right STRs. This contradicts the current code and does not help solve the problem. It exacerbates it,” lake resident Dennis Wallingsford said.  

But several speakers who operate short-term rentals at the lake said that an occupancy cap and other rules would unfairly single them out and urged the county to permit the use by-right, noting that the rentals are a boon for county coffers and local businesses.

Daniel Kauffman said that, as an STR owner, he too wants to keep the lake clean, and he understands the need for some septic system regulations. But he said the occupancy cap doesn’t make sense and pointed to the ripple effect of short-term rentals on the local economy.

“Short-term rentals are really valuable to this county,” Kauffman said. “The real income is from the people visiting the county because they spend money at all the local businesses. There’s also a lot of money that goes into the cleaning fees. We pay our cleaning team $300 to $500 per time to come and clean the home.” 

Kate Killham, another STR owner, said the proposed ordinance would implement “reasonable” regulations. She said imposing a two-person per bedroom occupancy cap and mandatory septic system pump outs, which were included in a draft considered by county officials last year, unfairly singles out STR owners and that proponents of such regulations are playing a game of “what if.” 

“You might hear from residents who claim that failing septic systems from rentals will compromise water quality. However, all they offer is supposition not evidence. Even LACA’s own research does not show that failing septic systems are to blame for HAB despite what LACA leadership might say,” Killham said. “Community what ifs are not conclusive, and they have yet to present anything but supposition.” 

Substitute proposal

After rejecting the draft ordinance considered during the public hearing, commissioners turned their attention to crafting a substitute proposal.

Most notably, the commission’s recommendation requires a CUP for short-term rentals across all county zoning designations except resort development (RD) and agricultural districts (A-1, A-2). The county wouldn’t impose rules on STRs in agricultural zoning to comply with an opinion that Attorney General Jason Miyares published earlier this year, which essentially says that localities can’t use their zoning code to regulate short-term rentals on agricultural land because the use is considered agritourism.

In RD zoning, which includes Spring Creek at Zion Crossroads, Cutalong at Lake Anna and several other areas, STRs would be allowed by-right with restrictions.  Those restrictions have been beefed up significant from the rejected draft, drawing mostly on a proposal submitted by Commission Chair John Disosway. The restrictions include a two-person per bedroom occupancy cap, which exempts children under two and allows for two additional people. 

Disosway said that an occupancy cap is just as important to ensure fire safety as it is to guard against septic system failure. 

“The last thing I want to read about in the paper is a fire at a weekend rental on the lake with grandchildren and children (in an) unfamiliar (space who) could not find their way out. Six dead,” he said.

The restrictions also require STRs owners in RD zoning to register with the county and pay a $50 fee unless they’re a licensed real estate agent or represented by a realtor, submit a property management plan to the county, and provide at least one designated parking space per bedroom and space for a trailer, among other rules. 

The Board of Supervisors has the final say on STR regulations. At the publication time, supervisors hadn’t advertised a public hearing to consider either proposal.  (source: Tammy Purcell, Engage Louisa)

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