Another meeting of the Forsyth County Commissioners, another lengthy discussion about a proposed short-term rental ordinance.
At a regular meeting on Thursday, commissioners held public hearings for the ordinance, which brought out passionate speakers on both sides. No action was taken for either, and commissioners will next discuss the ordinances at the July 19 meeting, where they can be adopted.
During the discussions, Commission Chairman Todd Levent pointed out at the close of the public hearing that with such differing opinions, the eventual decision would not be to everyone’s liking.
“We’re going to do our best to come up with something,” Levent said. “Nobody in this room is going to be 100 percent happy. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. Y’all are too far apart on certain issues, but you’re dead-center on most of them.”
The short-term rental ordinance deals with rentals through sites like VRBO or Airbnb, which allow homeowners to rent out a room or their entire residence for under a week.
One of the major issues between the two sides is the minimum length of the rentals. Commissioners have proposed a six-day minimum, which is consistent with the county’s unified development code.
Per county documents, coming in to Thursday’s meeting the ordinance also required a property owner to have a local person to contact if renters violated rules, a new $250 permit will be required for each rented property, caps on how many residents are able to stay in one night and limiting rentals to 20 weeks in a year and no more than twice a month.
If approved, the new ordinance will not apply to hotels, boarding houses or any other type of rental.
Discussion of the new short-term rental ordinance have been going on for some time, and during the meeting, District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson – whose district contains most of the county’s lakefront property, where the rentals are popular – said the debate had already started when she took office in January 2017.
During the public hearing, several of those who spoke in favor of the new ordinance did so begrudgingly, with many voicing concerns that it did not go far enough. Many of the supporters also opposed allowing the residential-zoned homes to be used for a commercial enterprise.
“Businesses are not allowed in a residential neighborhood,” said Steve Paul. “By their own admission [at a recent meeting] every person in there said, ‘my business, my business, my business, my business.’”
“Now it’s self-evident: this is a business.”
Those living near the rentals have repeatedly brought up issues with noise, trash and parking.
Some also voiced issues with legitimizing with what they felt was an improper use for the land.
“I feel like this ordinance as written is going to function to normalize what had previously been extralegal businesses in the county, not necessarily illegal but existing in something of a gray area,” said Paul Coenen. “To be honest, I feel like that normalization in itself functions as the largest, most-important concession that many of these businesses should be given.”
Those who opposed the ordinance took issue with the six-day minimum and said the majority of rentals were shorter than that. Several speakers said if the ordinance were approved, the county could lose tax revenue.
“The short-term rentals do bring a value to the state and to the county,” said Brian Nugent. “Most of them go to Costco and lay out $500 on groceries, beer, etc. Most spend one or two nights at local restaurants. All of this creates jobs for the residents and taxes for the county and state.”
Another common theme with the renters was felling those who had not caused issues were being punished for bad actors.
“I think we’re taking a bunch of bad apples and lumping everyone in with them,” Said Ron Kott, who said he had been renting since 2007 and had three in the county. “My place is better maintained than my neighbor's place. I feel bad for these people because I understand. If you’re going to make an ordinance, you need to make an ordinance that everyone can live with.”
After hearing from both sides, commissioners were tasked with trying to settle issues brought up on both sides. During the discussion, commissioners generally supported the six-day rental and two weeks a month minimums.
“We’re trying to find a reasonable balance that has some contemporary concept of how people live today,” Semanson said. “But by the same token, we’re not trying to undermine the very principles of land-use in this county.”
Commissioners also dealt with trying to pin down at which point a home would go from residential to commercial. Semanson brought up that Forsyth being in metro Atlanta would likely mean it had stricter rules than more rural rentals.
“It really does impact the quality of life, I think, for a lot of the residents who have made it their home, their main investment,” she said. “That lake has developed residentially, and it’s very hard to change the game on folks who have lived there all along.”
At points in the conversation, commissioners questioned whether to allow the rentals at all. How best to enforce the ordinance, where most of the complaints are on the weekend, was also brought up.”
A public hearing was also held for a noise ordinance to help mitigate some of the issues with the rentals. No action was taken, and the will come back at the board’s next regular meeting.