Sunrise near Augusta Bottoms Road

An orange sun rises in a hazy sky above a fog covered field July 24 near Augusta Bottoms Road. 

Efforts to temporarily halt the opening of more short-term housing rental businesses in Augusta gained momentum Thursday evening as the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended a six-month moratorium. 

The proposed moratorium will now go before the town board next month.

“We don’t want the number of Airbnbs to explode,” said Bryan Cavanaugh, chair of the zoning commission. 

Members of the public and town officials said since Washington natives David and Jerri Hoffmann announced their intention to invest more than $150 million into Augusta, in hopes of transforming the rural community into a national wine-based tourism destination similar to Napa Valley, out-of-town investors have scooped up properties. 

“If we don’t do something, we are going to lose our town,” said Clinton Hedrick, a member of the zoning commission. “It has been scary to see all of these homes be sold.” 

No one who owns or operates a short-term rental or bed and breakfast spoke at the public meeting. 

People selling and leaving the Augusta area has a ripple effect. For example, he said, it has been years since the community had enough children to field a baseball team. “We need people. We need neighbors,” Hedrick said. 

According to the most recent census data, Augusta has a population of 290 people with 130 occupied residences. The median value of those homes is $204,000 and climbing, according to federal data. Augusta is in St. Charles County. 

“If you think about, if just one residence sells, the two or three people who live there move away and the home becomes a short-term rental then that has a huge impact on Augusta,” Cavanaugh said. “This is a community that relies on the people who live here to volunteer. Just look at the Christmas Walk, the Plein Air, both big events for Augusta that take volunteers and lots of planning to make happen.” 

Zoning Commissioner Emily Lochirco said she lives across from a short-term rental property. 

“Would I prefer to have a family or a person living there? Yes, yes, I would,” Lochirco said. She said there have been moments when she felt unsafe because of the people staying at the house. 

According to Augusta officials, the town’s ordinances do not regulate the existence or operation of short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs, a company that operates a website that allows property owners to list their homes or individual rooms within their home for rent. There are other similar sites, including Vrbo and HomeToGo.

A search on Airbnb showed there were 13 registered short-term rentals in Augusta and outside of the community. 

Bob Holfer, chair of the town board, was one of three members of the public present at the meeting. He proposed the moratorium at a recent town board meeting. 

“Right now, we can only suggest that they get a business license. There isn’t even a requirement for that,” Holfer said. He said town leaders need a moratorium in place to give them the time to address such issues as parking requirements, limits on nights of stay, occupancy inspections and tax collection.   

He said the town sees no tax revenue from short-term rentals, including its bed tax, which goes to the St. Charles County Sports and Convention Commission. This is unlike in Washington, where the operators pay the city’s occupancy tax for overnight stays.

Lochirco agreed, voting in favor of the moratorium because she believed town leaders “need the time to create a set of rules that everyone will agree are fair.”