County OKs Temporarily Closing Lodging Facilities
Last updated 4/2/2020 at 11:08am
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During a special-called meeting Tuesday, the Transylvania Board of Commissioners approved a resolution closing, with exceptions, through April 30 all lodging facilities, including campgrounds and direct-reservation facilities (such as AirBnb and VRBO), with rentals or leases for less than 15 days in duration.
The exceptions include work-related accommodations, facilities housing the homeless, any facility being used for isolation and quarantine purposes, and for family-related visitation.
Current residents at campgrounds are permitted to stay, but campgrounds should not allow new patrons to enter and establish themselves, according to the resolution.
Current residents at hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and other short-term rentals are permitted to stay, but these facilities should cancel any leisure travel reservations for the duration of this declaration, the resolution said.
Prior to making the decision, the board went into closed session for about 30 minutes to talk with attorneys. The county was given legal advice on the proposed resolution, said County Manager Jaime Laughter.
As part of the rational for taking the action, the resolution notes COVID-19 “presents a public health concern that requires extraordinary protective measures and vigilance.”
The resolution highlights the State of Emergencies approved at the county and state levels, and the current Stay at Home order as among the reasons for taking the action.
The resolution also cancels or postpones all county meetings scheduled for April; and may restrict the public from attending, in person, commissioner or any county meetings because of the 10-person limit on gatherings. Commission meetings will be live streamed and actions will be taken to allow the public to submit emails prior to any meeting.
At the meeting, commissioners also heard a memo from Clark Lovelace, the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, that highlighted the current status of local “traditional” accommodations, such as hotels, motels, inns and bed and breakfasts.
On Monday, Chamber staff contacted 17 properties, with five or more rooms, and recorded the following results:
•Five are closed; five had no answer; four are open but have no bookings right now; and three are open to overnight guests, with occupancy rate of 9 percent, 25 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
•One is entirely workers and is not accepting leisure travel right now.
•One is almost entirely workers, with a couple of rooms where management isn’t aware of the purpose for the visit.
•One has just a few units on the books which are for lengthy stays of visitors who are quarantining in place.
To summarize, 14 of the 17 traditional accommo-dations are either confirmed closed, are believed to be closed or have no reservations.
The three open traditional accommodations are seeing primarily workers, with only a few rooms that are unknown or visitors who are self-quarantining (roughly six rooms combined for unknown/self-quarantining).
Lovelace also said in the memo that there are a number of new practices, many prescribed by their brand, to create a safe environment for guests, with things such as only packaged goods for breakfast and no overnight housekeeping services during stays (just check-in and check-out cleaning).
The chamber also contacted two real estate agencies that handle short-term rentals.
One cancelled all reservations through April and is not taking new reservations. One had all reservations cancelled by the visitors for all reservations through April
Reaching out to AirBnB or VRBO owners is more challenging, Lovelace said. The chamber received a list of current occupancy tax collecting properties and there are more on the list than six month ago – about 250. There could be as many as 600.
Commissioner Page Lemel said the resolution is about “slowing the spread” of COVID-19 in the community and to take the “pressure” off the hospital and health care workers who may face a surge in those who contract the virus and need medical care.
All the commissioners would eventually approve the resolution but some voiced concerns.
Commissioner David Guice, who agreed with Lemel, said he was concerned the county doesn’t know how many short-rental locations there are in the county. He was also concerned about the “enforcement and fairness of (the resolution).”
Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins said local hotels are not full with people fleeing here from other parts of the country.
There is “no perfect solution” to this situation, he said.
Commissioner Jason Chappell said the resolution “weighs heavy” on him because of his support of individuals rights but at this time it is “appropriate” because he took an oath to protect county residents. He, too, highlighted the importance of slowing any surge in COVID-19 patients.
Potentially, someone who violated the resolution could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, Hawkins said.
Sheriff David Mahoney was asked to make some comments.
He said he appreciated the county taking the action under legal advisement.
He said he also “appreciates the challenge” for the county, and his office, he said, is “facing daily changes” on how it operates under the current circumstances.
He suggested his office would form a task force to deal with complaints or violations.
“There are legal and Constitutional constraints we would have to work through,” he said. “We will do the right thing.”
Commissioner Will Cathey asked about having checkpoints in the county.
Mahoney said the county is “very accessible” and it would be “next to impossible” to have checkpoints without sig-nificant investment.
Guice said the county doesn’t have a “magic wand” to stop all people coming to the county.