Recent Communications

HNC News: Town Board Discusses Amortization of STRs (5/21/24)

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

At last week’s Town Board meeting, Commissioners discussed the possibility of moving forward with the phasing out of short-term rentals in R-1 and R-2 residential neighborhoods via a zoning process known as amortization.

HNC has been working diligently to find an answer to the STR problem and amortization is an approach we have been advocating as the only way to totally remove STRs from our neighborhoods. We would have preferred that the Town prohibited all STRs in residential neighborhoods when they originally passed the UDO amendments back in 2022 instead of allowing existing STRs to continue, but the Board now appears ready to follow up on its stated intention to phase out all STRs in our R-1 and R-2 residential neighborhoods.

Here’s a link to listen to the discussion that begins around the 28-minute mark:

The Commissioners directed the Town Attorney to draft an amendment to the UDO to review at its next meeting on June 20, 2024.  The process of considering these changes could take months. One significant decision is how long the amortization period will be.

There will be opponents to amortization – namely the powerful and deep-pocketed lobbyists (think VRBO, Airbnb, realtors, the destination wedding industry, and STR investors) who will challenge this step the moment it is announced by the Town.  If the zoning is amended to amortize STRs, a lawsuit will likely be filed.

We need your help! The next Town Board meetings are scheduled for June 20, July 18 and August 15.  Please mark your calendars in case we need your voices.

Stay tuned and visit our website for updates:  www.highlandsneighborhoodcoalition.com

The Highlands Neighborhood Coalition Board

Support the New Playground (May 2024)

Dear Neighbors,

There is an exciting new project in the works for the children of Highlands. A new playground is going to be constructed at the Rec Center.

Commissioner Brian Stiehler is one of the leaders of this effort and he has asked us to help in their fundraising efforts.

This is very much needed in our community, and we hope you will consider donating to make the playground a reality. You can read all about it by following this link:

Playground (heritageproductionswnc.com) 

Make your check out to “Town of Highlands” and note “Playground” at the bottom and send it to:

Town of Highlands – Playground, PO Box 460, Highlands, NC 28741

If you’d like to donate by credit card call 828-526-2118.

Gifts to the Town are tax deductible*.

Thanks!

 

* Please rely on the tax advice of your tax professional regarding the deductibility of this gift based on your personal circumstances.

Is Highlands a Retreat Community or a Tourist Community? (March 2024)

Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor has an opinion. He recently said:

“Historically, we are more of a retreat community than a tourist community.”

“People retreat here to escape the hustle and bustle of metropolitan areas and jam-packed tourist towns.”

“We must always balance the need for progress with the necessity to preserve what is so special and essentially Highlands.”

The Highlands Neighborhood Coalition couldn’t agree more, but we are heading in the opposite direction!

We believe it is critically important to preserve a Town that provides:

·       Traditional neighborhoods exclusively for our full-time and seasonal residents.

·       A safe and vibrant commercial district where restaurants, shops, small businesses, and lodging can thrive and peacefully co-exist.

·       Enjoyable and plentiful visitor experiences that do not harm traditional neighborhoods, town infrastructure, or the environment.

Thankfully, you and hundreds of other residents believe this as well. We are grateful for your involvement and your help.

WEBSITE UPGRADES

We continue to try to make our website easy to navigate and useful for our supporters. Check it out!

Highlandsneighborhoodcoalition.com

OVER FIFTY NEW SUPPORTERS THIS YEAR!

In just the last few weeks we have added over fifty new HNC supporters. Many of our new friends came from your personal referrals. Thank you!

If you have more friends or neighbors who you think might like to join us, email us at [email protected].

There is no cost and no obligation to join HNC – you just have to love Highlands, its traditional neighborhoods, and its residents.

NEWS OF NOTE

Here are some articles that caught our eye recently.

Illegal Downtown Asheville Airbnb report took years

Short-term rental restriction proposal rouses more debate

Letter About Election (September 2023)

September 10, 2023

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As summer draws to a close, we want to update you on the upcoming election and the short-term rental situation in Highlands.

THE ELECTION NOVEMBER 7th

HNC Board Members invited every candidate for Town Board to meet and discuss their plans for the future of Highlands. We were able to meet with all but one candidate. While we appreciate every candidate’s desire to serve the community, there are only two candidates that we can support and that we recommend you support.

HNC supports the incumbents, Brian Stiehler and John “Buz” Dotson. They both have a strong proven track record of voting to prevent short-term rentals from destroying our traditional residential neighborhoods and both remain committed to prohibiting STRs in our R-1 and R-2 neighborhoods to the extent permitted under state law.

Commissioners Stiehler and Dotson have earned our continued support.

While there are five total candidates running for three seats, we recommend that voters only vote for the two who have expressly stated support for removing STRs from our residential neighborhoods – Brian Stiehler and John “Buz” Dotson. It is absolutely critical that both get re-elected to continue their work to restore residential neighborhoods to Highlands.

How can you help?

  • If you are a voter, cast your votes for these two incumbents and encourage other voters to do the same. Early voting starts October 17, 2023.
  • Contribute to their campaigns so they can get their message out.
  • Contribute to the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition so we can continue our work advocating for residents and neighborhoods:

THE SHORT-TERM RENTAL SITUATION

We keep getting asked the question, “Are you satisfied with what the Town has done to restrict Short-term Rentals (STRs)?”

Our answer is a resounding “NO!!! The work is only half-done!” While every step to take back our neighborhoods from STR investors and return them to residents is appreciated, the Town still needs to finish the job.

Here is the status of STRs in Residential Zones R-1 and R-2 as of today:

  • STRs operating before September 15, 2022 can continue operating as an STR forever, even after an ownership change.
  • No other house in R-1 or R-2 can ever operate as an STR.
  • The value of houses that can operate as STRs is inflated, while those that cannot are devalued – on the same street!

The Town needs to provide residential neighborhoods without commercial activity where every property owner has the same property rights. The only way to do this is to prohibit all short-term rentals in our R-1 and R-2 residential neighborhoods.

Thank you for your interest in the future of Highlands. As always, we appreciate your support.

The Board of the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition

Summary of Annual Meeting of Supporters (June 2023)

Dear Neighbors,

Thanks to all of you who were able to attend our June 4 meeting. It is heartening to see so many of you supportive of our efforts to remove short-term rentals from our traditional residential neighborhoods. For those of you unable to attend, a summary of what was discussed is below.

Chronology

  1. Prior to the pandemic, homeowners in a variety of residential neighborhoods began to notice a drastic increase in a new phenomenon – short-term rentals in their neighborhoods. After being told by Town officials that it was unclear whether the current zoning would prohibit such activity, even though the zoning stated “exclusively single family residential . . . no commercial activity . . . including overnight accommodations,” these individuals worked together to convince the Town that the zoning as written prohibited STRs in residential neighborhoods.
  2. In August of 2021, the Town attorney announced that enforcement would begin in January of 2022 to issue notices of violations to any R-1 owners who were using their homes as STRs. A lawsuit was filed against the Town challenging this action and the Town agreed to delay enforcement until such time the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) could be reviewed and amended if necessary to reflect the will of the voters to prohibit STRs in residential neighborhoods.
  3. In September of 2022, the Town adopted amendments to prohibit any new STRs in R-1 and R-2 neighborhoods. STRs in existence could continue to operate as “nonconforming uses” until the Town takes further action.

Current Status

  1. The lawsuit against the Town was put on hold until the NC Legislature adjourns sometime this summer. Several bills have been introduced to limit local governments’ rights to enact zoning regulating STRs. We have monitored this legislation and have been told it is unlikely to pass this session. But never say never when it comes to legislation.
  2. If no legislation is passed that would limit the Town’s ability to regulate STRs, the Town has indicated it will move forward with phasing out the STRs in existence through a process called amortization. IT IS CRITICAL THAT WE SUPPORT THESE EFFORTS!
  3. Currently a majority of the Town Board, by a 4-1 vote, has voted to restrict STRs in our residential neighborhoods. We need to encourage them to move as quickly as possible with amortization. Simultaneously, we need to pay attention to the November election when 3 commission seats are up for election.

Next Steps

  1. For almost three years, we have attended Town meetings, spoken during public comments sessions, written letters and met with decision makers. We have engaged the best land use attorney we could find to advise us how to move forward. We have advertised in the local papers to educate the public. We have asked you to show up and write letters and appreciate your efforts.
  2. The next few months are critical. We must continue with our education efforts and our political efforts. We need your support. We have two separate entities to engage in this work – please consider supporting either or both. The Highlands Neighborhood Preservation is a 501(c)(3) that accepts tax-deductible donations to engage in public education efforts. The Highlands Neighborhood Coalition is a 501(c)(4) organization that can engage in advocacy and support candidates for election to public office. Contributions to HNC are not tax deductible.
  3. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or suggestions you may have. Look for another in-person meeting once we know what the legislature has (or has not done) and how we can move forward.

www.highlandsneighborhoodcoalition.com
[email protected]

Letter to the Membership 2/25/23

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

2022 was a busy year for HNC. And 2023 is looking to be even busier.

Beginning in the fall of 2021 and culminating in September of 2022, HNC monitored, researched, advised and ultimately was successful in advocating for a ban on short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods (R-1 and R-2) in the Town of Highlands. In addition, Tourist Homes, which includes the rental of a portion of one’s primary residence, inns and B&B’s, are only allowed in R-2, limited to a maximum of 4 bedrooms, and require a Special Use Permit.

Although the ban enacted by the Town of Highlands on September 15, 2022 only applied to new short-term rentals (those not in operation on 9/15/22), HNC remains hopeful that additional action will be taken by the Town in 2023 to eliminate all short-term rentals in R1 and R2 neighborhoods.

The Mayor and Commissioners have recently announced they will wait for the NC Legislature to adjourn in August before taking further action. The stated rationale is that there may be legislation forthcoming to clarify the powers of local governments to regulate short-term rentals. As you might imagine, local governments throughout NC would be affected and are lobbying to preserve local zoning powers. We welcome anyone who has influence in Raleigh to weigh in our behalf!

In the meantime, HNC remains committed to educating homeowners about the new enforcement rules, and assisting the Town with its enforcement efforts. We are currently working to obtain information that lists the location of operating STRs in R-1 and R-2 neighborhoods that the Town’s consultant has been able to identify so far. This information would help residents monitor any new ones that might spring up.

On another note, Macon County sent out its new property assessments this week – many properties have more than doubled in value! (HNC is currently researching the impact of STRs on property values.) Appeals are due by March 13, so don’t delay if you have the requisite proof that your value may be inflated.

We appreciate all of our supporters and ask that you consider renewing your membership for 2023, as well as making an additional donation to enable us to continue this fight. You can renew your membership online at highlandsneighborhoodcoalition.com. Annual dues are $100.

If you wish to make a tax-deductible donation to help support this effort, it may be made to Highlands Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., a 501(C)(3) organization that supports our educational and related efforts on this issue. Checks can be mailed to PO Box 2103 Highlands, NC 28741.

We have used past support to pay for legal advice to enable us to advocate effectively, and to advertise in local papers to educate the public. There will be an election in November of 2023 to fill three vacancies on the Board of Commissioners and it is imperative that only candidates who clearly oppose the proliferation of STRs in our residential neighborhoods are elected.

Join us in the fight to stop Highlands from being taken over by those who only want the money and care little for the quality of life in our beloved town.

HNC Supports the Mirror Lake Dredging Project (October 2022)

October 16, 2022

Mayor Pat Taylor
Town of Highlands
P.O. Box 460
Highlands, NC 28741

Dear Mayor Taylor,

This letter is written in support of the plan to improve Mirror Lake. The Mirror Lake Improvement Association has developed a plan of dredging and other improvements that are much needed for this important natural feature in Highlands. We encourage you and the Board of Commissioners to take whatever steps necessary to get this plan implemented.

Our neighborhood coalition believes this project will benefit all residents of Highlands and we wholeheartedly support it.

Sincerely,

Cathy Henson, President
Highlands Neighborhood Coalition, Inc.
www.highlandsneighbrhoodcoalition.com

HNC Attorney Presentation to Town Board (August 2022)

Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about why amortization of short term rentals is a perfectly legal zoning action available to the Town.

I want to make three points:

  1. The amortization draft before you does not violate the holdings of the Wilmington case.
  2. Amortization is settled law in North Carolina and may be applied by you to the use of single family homes as short term rentals in specified zones. And
  3. If the Town is sued, the likelihood of an award of attorneys’ fees to a plaintiff is very remote.

The first point: the amortization draft before you doesn’t violate the holdings of the NC Court of Appeals in the Wilmington case.

Your ordinance proposal was drafted by the very law firm that represented the City of Wilmington in that Short Term Rental case. If anyone in the state knows how to draft an ordinance that complies with the holdings in that case its Bob Hagemann, your consulting attorney on this matter. Of particular note is the fact that the court in the Wilmington case didn’t rule on the amortization question: the case was decided on the simple question of whether Wilmington had enacted a registration system that the statutes prohibited. Your amortization draft does not contain a prohibited registration system.
The second point: Amortization is settled law in North Carolina and may be used by you to amortize short term rentals out of R-1 and R-2 zones. Amortization has been considered by the appellate courts of our state at least six times, and upheld each time.

State v Joyner was a state Supreme Court case from 1974 that allowed Winston-Salem to amortize a construction debris junk yard use over a three year period.

Since then the NC Court of Appeals has applied the law consistently in five cases applying State v Joyner.

In County of Cumberland v Eastern Federal Corporation the court upheld a 3 year amortization removing nonconforming signs (1980)

In R. O. Givens v Town of Nags Head the court upheld a 5 ½ year amortization removing non-conforming billboards (1982)

In Goodman Toyota v the City of Raleigh the court upheld a 90 day amortization prohibiting windblown signs (in that case a 14 foot advertising blimp) (1984)

In Summey Outdoor Advertising v County of Henderson the court upheld a five year amortization removing nonconforming free standing signs (1990)
And in Maynor v Onslow County the court upheld a two year amortization on the location of sexually oriented businesses (1997).

Here’s the most important thing about each of these 5 Court of Appeals cases: the state Supreme Court refused to review the rulings in any of them. They were petitioned to do so and refused all five times, allowing the Court of Appeals decisions to stand as good law in North Carolina.
The second thing I want to point out is that in the cases with lengthy amortization periods the ordinances required the structures to be removed, in addition to the cessation of the use. In the two year amortization of the location of sexually oriented businesses the structures weren’t removed – just the use. That is the case in your amortization proposal, too. No single family structure is to be removed. The owners of those structures may still make lawful use of the structure as a long term rental, or they may sell it, or they may live in it. No property is taken from them, just one use is amortized and prohibited at a date certain in the future.

The third point is that I know you’ve been threatened with attorneys fees should a plaintiffs group succeed in a lawsuit. GS 6-21.7 states that if a court finds “that the city or county violated a statute or case law setting forth unambiguous limits on its authority, the court shall award reasonable attorneys fees and costs”. But as I’ve just outlined, the case law in North Carolina unambiguously supports the appropriate use of amortization. The award of attorneys’ fees to any plaintiff challenging an amortization ordinance is extremely unlikely.

The conclusion is that you have the authority to enact the amortization proposal before you, and it is a well drafted proposal.

Thanks for your consideration.

Presented by Mac McCarley, Highlands Neighborhood Coalition outside counsel, on August 25, 2022. Verbal comments may not be identical to the presentation script.

HNC Solicits Contributions for Town Scholarship Fund (April 2022)

Good Morning Neighbors,
This message from the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition is to encourage all of you to support the scholarship fund for our community school, the Highlands School and to give you a brief update on Short-term Rentals.

There are many things that knit a community together and a very important one is providing for and nurturing our children. Turning out well-rounded, well-educated and well-prepared students year after year, our local school performs a great service for our community and for our children in grades K-12.

A great thing about our school is that every student is eligible to receive some level of college scholarship and that is the area where they need our support now. As our Mayor Pat Taylor explained in his newsletter this week, the last couple of years have put a dent in fundraising for the Scholarship Fund and the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition joins with him in encouraging you to lend your support.
Your tax-deductible contribution payable to the “Town of Highlands Scholarship Fund” may be sent to:

Town of Highlands
PO Box 460
Highlands, NC 28741

Residents, whether full-time or seasonal, are the reason that Highlands has the great infrastructure and culture that it has. With the support of our financial contributions, taxes, volunteerism and patronage, working together with our elected officials and town administration we are able to have a regional hospital, a vibrant and growing arts community, emergency services for those in financial need, support services for those with special needs, excellent fire, safety and utility services, a healthy church community, many other great amenities and…

A great school!

We can’t keep those things without our continued support so join with us in supporting the Scholarship Fund.

P.S. The second part of Mayor Taylor’s newsletter has his initial views about the recent Wilmington court decision about a town’s rights to regulate and determine zoning for short-term rentals. You can read that by going to www.askmayorpat.com. Also attached is an analysis of the court decision from the UNC School of Government in which they emphasize that a town has the right to designate where short-term rentals (STRs) will be allowed, if at all. This clears the way for our town leaders to act and make a final decision on whether STRs will be allowed in Highlands and, if so, where.

Letter from the President 2022

Dear Neighbors,

My husband and I have owned our home on Satulah Mountain since 2004. One of the reasons we bought here is because we both grew up in small towns, and Highlands has provided us the opportunity to experience the joys of small town living as adults who, during the week, live in a large metropolitan area (Atlanta). We are here most weekends and holidays. We attend the Christmas parade, the tree lighting, and the Fourth of July celebration, to name a few. We pay property taxes and support numerous nonprofit organizations in town, including the Bascom, the Highlands Playhouse, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, and the Highlands Botanical Station. This past pandemic year, we supported the Food Pantry and the Vaccination Clinic. We love this town.

Over the past few years, we have become concerned about the proliferation of short term rentals (STR’s) in our residential neighborhood. We bought our home relying on the Town of Highlands zoning designation of our neighborhood as R-1, which prohibits all commercial activities. It specifically categorizes “Overnight Accommodations” as a Commercial Use, and as such, under the Town’s Code, this includes the short term rental of private residences.

The Town of Highlands has recently given notice that it will begin enforcing this long standing prohibition of STR’s in R-1 neighborhoods on January 3, 2022. We wholeheartedly support this decision. No one really seems to know how many STR’s are currently operating in R-1 residential neighborhoods. Estimates range from 400-1000. We do know the rate of properties being purchased by investors to operate STR’s is increasing.

I believe I speak on behalf of the thousands of second homeowners in Highlands – the silent majority – who have observed this phenomenon with concern and now outright fear that our beloved little town is being destroyed. The infrastructure of Highlands is being overrun – traffic, trash, Covid exposure, and no affordable housing for local workers, to name only a few issues. All mainly to serve the commercial purposes of an ever-expanding wedding event enterprise and related services. These events far exceed the capacity of our town and thus are negatively impacting the long-standing and historic neighborhoods that ironically first attracted these events.

For a while now, many of us have new “neighbors” every weekend. But there is nothing neighborly about how they act. We generally cannot see them, and they cannot see us. But we can hear them. We can hear their music. We can hear their dogs. We can hear their many guests. We can hear their fireworks. We can hear their vehicles speeding up and down our mountain roads. We do not have ANY of these issues with our permanent neighbors. We now approach every weekend with dread.

We have read with dismay the letters from those who are profiting from these prohibited activities in our neighborhoods. They assert that they can do what they want with their property. May we remind them of the Latin proverb that underpins all property law: “Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas” – use your own property in a way that does not harm other people’s property or injure their lawful rights. These STR’s in our formerly quiet and peaceful residential neighborhoods have significantly harmed our rights to the quiet use and enjoyment of our homes.

We are at a tipping point if the Town’s decision is not supported and STR’s are allowed to exist and proliferate in residential neighborhoods. If you support the Town’s decision, I invite you to join the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition, a group of individual property owners and homeowners’ associations who have come together with the purpose of supporting the Town of Highlands in what may become a costly legal battle. As you might imagine, the proponents of STR’s in R-1 neighborhoods are powerful – think wedding vendors, AirBNB, VRBO, and real estate companies. The threat is at both the local level (pressure on the Town to reverse its decision) and at the state level (pressure on the NC legislature to pass legislation to prohibit local municipalities from passing any local legislation that would prohibit STR’s in residential neighborhoods).

I invite you to join me in this effort. We hope that if you agree with our position, you will be willing to make your position known to the Mayor and Town Council members, and join and contribute to the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition to protect our homes and neighborhoods. And of course, if you are a registered voter in Highlands, please vote for candidates who will stand firm on the enforcement of illegal commercial activity in R-1 neighborhoods.

Cathy Henson
President, Highlands Neighborhood Coalition

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