Home City Residents’ concerns fly at special forum for short-term rentals like Airbnb

Residents’ concerns fly at special forum for short-term rentals like Airbnb

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Citizens’ concerns ran the gamut of confusion, concern and support Tuesday night at the Athens Community Center during a special forum, concerning a proposed change in city law that would allow short-term rentals —  including Airbnb and VRBO — in residential neighborhoods.

Multiple Athens residents had the chance to speak their mind to the crowd and the City Planning Commission. A few were in support of the idea of Airbnb coming to Athens and were also interested in renting out their own properties as tourism homes and Airbnb’s in the future.

Those residents cited international students, faculty members and visiting parents all as potentially valuable short-term renters.

The majority of those who spoke Tuesday night stated they lived in R1, or residential neighborhoods that have many restrictions on rental properties and business operations within the zone. Currently, tourism homes are allowed in business zones, but not R1 residential neighborhoods such as Elmwood Place and Utah Place.

Davis Kramer, who grew up in Athens but now lives in Brooklyn, New York, expressed a special interest in tourist housing in Athens.

She shared that her father tried to get a permit from the Athens Board of Zoning Appeals 12 years ago to open a bed-and-breakfast on East State Street and was turned down despite the fact that his request was legal at the time.

Since then, Kramer has remained passionate about using her family home in Athens to help the community.

“For me, it was a creative project,” Kramer said, “We’re only the second owners, and we have a beautiful house with a large amount of property. I’d like to restore the property and tell that history.”

Kramer also brought a petition to the zoning board last year in support of tourist housing in Athens, but was turned down. She wants to continue advocating for the issue and also wants to ultimately find a compromise between her own interests and the concerns of those who attended the forum.

“I have all the same concerns as all the people (at the forum),” Kramer said. “I don’t want it to destroy the neighborhood; I want people to feel proud of their properties they got to restore.”

In addition to those affirmative viewpoints, many other attendees expressed significant concern for the future of their communities if short-term rentals were to become permitted in residential neighborhoods.

Those R1 residents expressed a few common concerns, including worry over already limited parking spaces becoming even more strained, and the overwhelmed city Office of Code Enforcement and Community Development potentially having difficulty keeping up with housing complaints.

Most of all, people expressed concern over new people coming into their neighborhoods and possibly causing disturbances during their short-term stays.

Mary Abel and Jan Hodson, two residents of R1 neighborhoods, both attended the forum to speak their concerns about tourist housing potentially coming to Athens. 

The pair also brought forth a petition, which sported 251 signatures against the proposal. The petition had been distributed across multiple R1 neighborhoods in Athens. Both residents believe their petition demonstrates ample proof of dissent toward the issue. 

“The petition said we the voters in R1 are opposed to stand-alone tourist homes as a business operation,” Abel stated, “We ask the planning commission and City Council vote against that proposal.”

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