Home Money Public hearing on bed and breakfasts draws big turnout

Public hearing on bed and breakfasts draws big turnout

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Athens City Council began their meeting Monday with a public hearing concerning current language in city code that prevents residents from starting bed-and-breakfasts, as well as simply renting out an unused room through services like AirBnB.

Following a protest outside the City Building, Council President Christine Knisely opened discussion by reminding the audience against outbursts during the hearing.

Current city code says residents who choose to rent out unused rooms are to be fined $500 by the city.

“At this point it is a public hearing, we are reviewing recommendations,” Knisley said. “We have opened this up to the public as is required, but this is a very preliminary step.”

All speakers unanimously agreed that current code is outdated, asking for council members to “join the 21st century.”

“The one issue that really concerns me is how young people will see the city,” a resident said. “How do students travel? They budget, they look for alternative ways.”

Allen Swank, a resident of Athens, spoke on the benefits it could bring the community based on personal experience traveling using bed-and-breakfasts around the east coast.

“You’re not greeted by someone who represents a corporate entity, you’re greeted by the community, the proprietor of the business, the one who has a real stake in the company,” Swank said.

With many of the speakers speaking out about personal discrepancies and fines currently being issued, Swank urged the council members to think on the issue and use their own personal experience.

“I think a well thought out ‘B and B’ package can really help the local economy and community.” added Swank.

The night continued with Finance and Personnel Committee Chair and Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, opening the floor with James Butchner, a representative from Clemans-Nelson hired to help the council familiarize themselves with the recommendations for a non-union compensation plan.

These recommendations seek to help the council come to a decision on how to create their non-union compensation ordinance. After 10 minutes of projections and spreadsheets, Risner himself admitted his own confusion.

“I feel like I’m walking away from a fire hose,” Risner said. “I know I’m trying to wrap my head around this, but it’s a lot of information.”

After the council agreed on needing more time to digest the information, Councilman Mike Canterbury, D-At Large, turned attention to the employees that have a stake in their decision.

“I want to hear from the administrative side,” Canterbury said. “They’re the one who deal with these people. They’ll have to deal with the outcome.”

The night ended with the City and Safety Services committee addressing the upcoming project on the Depot Street Lift Station that involves sewer renovations.

The project has been open for bids with a budget of $835,000. The construction will focus on updating the current sewer infrastructure in the area to prepare for future city growth.

Councilwoman Christine Fahl, D-4th Ward, ended the night with a Syrian refugee related resolution concerning the city’s joint response to the growing issue.

“I think Athens has always been a very accepting place,” Fahl said. “I think we should put that in words.”

Citing recent negative “verbage” being used over the weekend, Fahl went on to express the need for people in their position to set standards.

“This is America,” Mayor Paul Wiehl said. “You should be allowed to go where you want to go.”

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