Friday, October 31, 2014

County passes ordinance on short term rentals


By Pat Cooper

With only a bit of debate, on Thursday night the county commission approved an ordinance regarding short term lodging.
According to county attorney Dennis Davenport, the real problem is the impact that short-term rentals are causing in the community since they have taken place in mostly single-family residential areas.
It was nearly two months ago when residents from the Adams Court area of Fayette County complained about the neighbor who has been renting out his home with just this kind of use. Ray Swann said the neighbors had been ‘going through hell’ as they attempted to cope with the rising national trend that has touched their subdivision.
With no regulating ordinance on the books, the Fayette County marshals were unable to issue any kind of summons that could be taken seriously by the homeowner. In the meantime, Swann said neighbors were suffering as shuttle and tour buses swung up and down the cul-de-sac, damaging property, as noise levels escalated and even being threatened by a group of motorcyclists who were renting the property during one event because they had called the sheriff’s department.
Residents said one homeowner in their cul-de-sac had taken to renting out his home for events like wedding receptions and parties or just as an unofficial hotel/motel for weeks of times through internet sites.
Marshal Kathy Hobbs has worked for weeks with Davenport to cover the problem. The proposal set before the commission is almost identical to the statewide ordinance that was enacted this year by the legislature. Hobbs said now residents who wish to rent out their property are going to have to get a specific occupation permit which will be regulated through the environmental health department.
Commissioner Randy Ognio wanted to know if it was possible to get figures that would give officials a ‘percentage of use’ for this type of activity.
“If they’re doing this more than 50 percent of the year for short-term rentals, this has to be considered a business and needs to be in a commercial zoning area. They can’t do this in residential areas. We’re not going to have commercial uses in residential zoning areas. If we don’t look at it, we could have zoning issues in the future.”
Davenport said the real issue causing negative impacts is the use of the property which is inconsistent with single-family usage districts.
“For example, holding big gatherings that are noisy and not welcome in the area because it doesn’t fit with the character of the neighborhood.
“One thing we did in this document is to limit special events and we defined special events to things like weddings, receptions, reunions. Those are limited only to the tourist accommodations that are in commercially zoned areas. If you are engaging in the activity of a tourist accommodation, and you’re not in the area, you can’t have a special event. It relegates you to having only guests at the residential structure that use it like everybody else. You’re limited to number as far as capacity of the structure is concerned and you are limited to the number of vehicles, in an attempt to make sure the end result is a use consistent with single-family residential uses. We’ve gotten rid of the commercial aspects and focused on the residential aspects.”
However, commissioner Allen McCarty said he had a problem with this kind of legislation of a homeowner’s rights to use their property the way they want.
“I’m totally against anything that will restrict a person’s use of their property. I’m against the ordinance. We already have in our possession the means necessary to take care of problems. Call the sheriff or the marshal. They have the authority to make them leave. We already have noise abatement programs, parking regulations, and traffic regulations. Enforce the rules we have to eliminate the problems.
Both Ognio and commissioner David Barlow pointed out that the neighbors had already attempted to go that route and there wasn’t much the county could do.
Swann said it was his neighborhood that brought the topic to a head and he fully understood where McCarty “was coming from.
“We don’t need too much government. This is not all the way down the line what we wanted but we had to compromise,” a resident said. “This wasn’t about somebody like you or me. This was about somebody who was strictly greedy and all he cared about was how much green was coming across his palm and didn’t care what happened to us.  This is way beyond anything you’re thinking of using your property for. This is a strictly commercial venture. I don’t think there was anything in the existing ordinances that gave the county any teeth to go into it.”
Resident David Arnold agreed, saying that he believed when he moved from Douglas County last year that he’d found a quiet cul-de-sac, but with these events, his stance has changed.
“I can’t stand it. Tour buses are coming in and out. Shuttle buses go all week. This isn’t right. It’s not a commercial business. And what about the county infrastructure? Who’s going to fix the road from those buses? Are they going to pay for it? None of us want to prohibit fun on your own property, things like weddings, reunions, cookouts or a party, but that’s not what this is about. Sure, every once in awhile someone would get rowdy, but this is a week after week after week ordeal.”
Commission chairman Steve Brown noted that after attending a meeting in Savannah last week, this problem of tourist accommodations turned out to the be the biggest problem the city is facing.
Ultimately, all the commissioners present approved the new ordinance. Next, they’ll be faced with establishing the fees for tourist accommodation usage.


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