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New technology to track short-term rentals, update on Caney Creek Preserve and more from commission work session

Owners of short-term rentals who were hoping to skirt recently-approved county rules will be up against some in-depth technology.

At a recent work session, Forsyth County Commissioners saw a live demonstration of software from Host Compliance, which will monitor and identify short-term rentals in the county after commissioners decided in April to limit the rentals to areas with agricultural zoning districts.

Brandon Kenney, the county’s chief technology officer, said data from the company showed there were 197 units in the county offering short-term rentals, with eight being added in the 30 days prior to the meeting. Of those, Kenney said the company had linked 75 percent of the rentals with an address.

“That’s extremely important because what that means is the company, through all of their means, has identified, but now has verified the information using multiple sources,” Kenney said. “It could be certain things as images on a Zillow site. It could be our public information from the tax assessor. It could be a whole host of information.”

Other information offered from the service includes price per night, minimum number of nights per stay and the number of reviews for properties. 

Short-term rentals have been a debate in the county for more than two years. Discussions on the topic date back to 2016, when the only current commissioners on the board at that time were District 3’s Todd Levent and District 4’s Cindy Jones Mills, after neighbors living near homes used for short-term rentals raised concerns.

Since then, there have been more than a dozen meetings where the issue has come up, and commissioners have attempted to strike a balance between the property rights of the rentals’ owners and their neighbors.

In recent years, services like Airbnb have become a popular way for people to rent out a room or their house for short-term stays as a more personal and appealing — and often cheaper — choice over a hotel.

No action was taken during the meeting.

Caney Creek update

During the meeting, commissioners also approved an updated master plan for Caney Creek Preserve and authorized staff to have a traffic study done in the surrounding area.

Parks Director Jim Pryor said the project involved looking into existing facilities, a slope study and meetings in the community.

Jeff Ashbaugh, with Benesch Consultants, the firm hired to do the study, said different amenities have aged better or worse since the park opened in 2009.

“A few things that we learned from our investigation is the existing facilities that are there are in good condition and well-maintained for the most part, but some of the facilities, like the dog park, are showing signs of wear,” Ashbaugh said.

“We also learned that the park feels oriented toward walkers and runners and people who only sit and relax and just basically a really quiet park, a really simple park. It feels very adult-like and oriented toward adult uses. There are not many activities for children.”

Per the plan, the proposed improvements include landscaping at the two entrances, fencing on the side of the park fronting Caney Road, adding a new hilltop play area, adding a multi-purpose community center, improving the dog park, adding an outdoor classroom, repairs to the water play feature and trail improvements. 

Pryor said the approval was only for the master plan and not for funding for the proposed project.

Under one roof

Last year following the retirement of former Forsyth County Fire Chief Danny Bowman, Forsyth County Commissioners voted to have Chris Grimes serve as director of the county’s emergency management agency, moving the agency out of the fire department’s purview. 

At this week’s meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to go ahead with realigning the county’s E-911 center under EMA, thus reducing the number of departments in the county.

County Manager Eric Johnson said the change would not be immediate. 

“I see emergency management as kind of a neutral party working with all of our public safety agencies and a variety of other departments,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the department would have two deputy directors: one over 911 and one for a deputy emergency management director. 

Big ticket items 

Commissioners approved a number of purchases for various departments in the county.

For accountability courts, the board approved consideration and approval of grant awards for $245,545, $151,295, $101,890 and $27,634 with in-kind matches of $27,293, $16,811, $11,321 and $3,070, respectively. 

A lease agreement for a new employee health and wellness center on West Maple Street was also approved. The space will be a new buildout of 2,200 square feet with a lease rate of $21.50 per square foot or $47,300 per year for five years. Lease space for the planning and development department was also approved at the site for $15.50 per square foot or $34,100 for five years.

For E-911 a new HigherGround digital voice recording system was approved for $149,540.

The fire department received funding for a new chemical identification analyzer worth $104,850 and a replacement fire engine worth about $690,000, which the county will pay out of pocket about $200,000.

The new fire truck will replace a pumper that flipped when responding to an emergency during a storm. Some non-electronic items were able to be salvaged from the vehicle.

The sheriff’s department also received a bid for three new Dodge Challengers for $62,757.

Change orders were also approved for several ongoing projects including an additional $25,000 for appraisal services for the Hwy.369-Ga. 400 interchange project and $16,534 for Sharon Road widening.

Also for Ga. 400, $4.7 million was approved for construction and relocation of a waterline. 

Those projects were paid for through various county department funds.