October 14, 2021
Dear Highlands 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 (STRs) 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, we have always believed 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 STRs in R-1 neighborhoods on January 3, 2022. We wholeheartedly support this decision. No one really seems to know how many STRs are currently operating in R-1 residential neighborhoods. Estimates range from 400-1000. We also know that the number of properties being operated as STRs is increasing at an alarming rate.
I believe I speak on behalf of the thousands of full-time and 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 now 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 awhile now, many of us have experienced 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 whatever 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 STRs 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 wholeheartedly supported and STRs 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 prolonged legal battle. As you might imagine, the proponents of STRs in R-1 neighborhoods are powerful – think wedding vendors, Airbnb, VRBO, and real estate rental 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 STRs 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 will join the Highlands Neighborhood Coalition to protect our historic neighborhoods. And of course, if you are a registered voter in Highlands, please vote for candidates who will stand firm on the prohibition of STRs in R-1 residential neighborhoods.
In closing, I simply ask: “If the prohibition on STRs in residential neighborhoods is not enforced, what will become of Highlands?”
Highlands Neighborhood Coalition