Airbnb controversy continues for county residents

  • Airbnb controversy continues for county residents
    Airbnb controversy continues for county residents

Mary Thompson made good on her promise at the October Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners meeting to “come up with ideas” and present them to commissioners. She, her husband Bob and several of their neighbors in the McDonald Mill Subdivision showed up for a recent meeting, with research on other local governments’ ordinances restricting short term rentals (STRs) and suggestions for Lumpkin’s ordinance in hand.
“I was on the Planning Board in Lawrenceville, and I know the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’ll be squeaking quite a bit,” Mary told commissioners.
What she and her neighbors want is changes to the county’s STR Ordinance that will protect neighbors in platted subdivisions.
At her October appearance before the board she brought evidence to show STRs should be considered as businesses, and questioned why the county does not enforce protective covenants of subdivisions.
She learned that in Lumpkin’s Land Use Code, STRs are considered residential, and even an encouraged use of property in residential areas. She also pointed out to commissioners that personal care homes, rooming/boarding houses and small lodging facilities “which can be up to 25 units” were all included in the county’s residential area in the Land Use Code.
“[These] should be moved to either Neighborhood Commercial or Community Commercial zoning areas and out of the list of Residential uses because these are obviously commercial uses, but done in a residential building,” Mary said.
McDonald Mill resident Amy Stetson, who is an insurance agent by profession, agrees. She told commissioners Airbnbs “cannot get a residential insurance policy. They must have a commercial policy.”
Mary also discovered that subdivision covenants are a civil matter; something the county stays out of.
Mary said the McDonald Mill group plans to amend their covenants to specifically bar STRs in order to protect their neighborhood from any additional STRs in future. And despite the fact the two STRs currently there would be grandfathered in if the changes she suggests are instituted, she would still like to see changes made so at least it would spare others in the county the problems she and her neighbors are now experiencing.
The group wants to see  many changes ranging from a complaint hotline to a Special Use Permit system.
“This should be done at a very minimum,” Mary said.
Board Chairman Chris Dockery asked Planning Director Bruce Georgia if there had been any additional complaints since the groups appearance last month. There had not been. But Dockery agreed with one of the first proposals. He said the county was already “working on a 24-hour phone number residents would be able to call.
“We’re trying to see how to best handle STRs. This is something new, and our first attempt at an ordinance to regulate them.”
Mary’s husband Bob came prepared with research into the subject as well.
“Since last month when we initially approached you about short term rentals in our neighborhood I have learned many new things about this subject,” he told the board.
The original idea of Airbnbs “was a great idea,” Bob said. Home owners rented space in their own homes, were present during the rentals and accountable while earning extra cash. It has since turned into a whole house rental business model, with accompanying problems for the neighbors.
“In city after city across the country, restrictions are being put in place to keep the growth of this industry in healthy check,” Bob said.
Some examples he gave include Dunwoody and Peachtree Corners, which do not allow rentals of less than one month.
Blue Ridge does not allow STRs except on commercially zoned properties—none at all on residentially zoned properties without a variance.
“But get this,” Bob said, “the homeowners are actually notified of the variance request. Then public hearings are held to either work things out or deny the variance request. This is a very fair way to do short term rentals because it gives the existing residential homeowners an opportunity to be informed and either accept or reject the variance.”
Forsyth only allows STRs on agriculturally zoned property.
In Brookhaven rentals are limited to 180 days per year.
Jersey City, N.J., L.A., New York and San Francisco all have requirements and/or restrictions on STRs, Bob told the board.
“Lumpkin County has almost no restrictions. Business owners can rent out the entire house on a night-by-night basis, no county residence is required, no on-site hosts are required, properties can be rented 365 days a year—again, basically a hotel. No advance notice to residents when a full-time Airbnb is being started. If you were getting a hotel next door to you, wouldn’t you want to know?” He asked. “There must be a differentiation between a casual home renter, such as renting their house for the weekend during a festival weekend, versus the full-time rentals advertised internationally where the home is available virtually 365 days a year. Those are basically hotels on a smaller scale and should not be in residential areas—period.”
Commissioner Bobby Mayfield thanked the Thompsons for their input.
“You’ve given us a lot to think about. I appreciate you coming here not just to complain, but to give us some solutions.”
“I believe these folks have a valid concern and that there is always room for improvement,” he later told The Nugget. “I am appreciative of their suggestions and when we review this ordinance, I can assure you that their concerns and suggestions will be taken into consideration.”
Commissioners Jeffrey Moran and David Miller were equally appreciative of the Thompsons’ suggestions and possible solutions.
“It’s important for elected officials to periodically review existing regulations and ordinances … especially when new issues arise,” Miller said.
Moran said he expects STRs will “continue to create controversy within neighborhoods where people are buying houses for the sole purpose of using them as short term rentals. … As county commissioners, when creating or revising ordinances we have to respect and maintain the delicate balance between the rights of property owners and the rights of neighboring property owners who could possibly be negatively affected by short term rentals.”
Moran suggested that Homeowners Associations concerned with STRs coming into their community should take a look at their covenants.
“… update outdated covenants. Most covenants were written several years ago and before short term rentals were even a thing. The covenants should specifically state ‘no short term rentals’ if that is a concern or desire of a neighborhood. If a neighborhood's covenants restrict homeowners from operating a commercial business out of their home, that is not enough because the county ordinances list short term rentals as a residential use, not a commercial use,” he said.