Athens Short-term hearing

Jan Hodson, Athens resident, addresses City Council during a hearing on short-term rentals.

Athens residents and City Council met in a hearing regarding pending legislation on short-term rentals, with most of the residents who spoke on the matter opposed to it.

The package of ordinances that would regulate short-term rentals is currently passing through City Council, and received a first reading (of three total) last week. The issue will be discussed again at next week's City Council meeting.

Supportive council members previously said the short-term rental ordinance would regulate the presence of short-term rentals, supplement low-income households and generate revenue for the city through the hotel tax.

The ordinance defines short-term rentals as property leases for less than 30 days. Short-term rentals have become popular as services like VRBO and Airbnb emerged to help rental owners advertise and book stays.

The proposed suit of ordinances sets requirements for short-term rentals. People who live in homes anywhere in the city could receive a permit allowing them to accommodate paying guests for less than 30 days. Nonresident property owners can have no more than three adult renters, plus related children, staying for less than 30 days. Additionally, nonresidents' homes must be located either on an residential lot that borders an R-2 or R-3 zone or B-zone, or it must front East State Street, Carpenter Street, Lancaster Street or Columbus Road.

Most residential neighborhoods in Athens are zoned as R-1, the lowest density residential area. However, parts of Uptown, the Ohio University campus and much of the student housing surrounding Mill Street is zoned R-3, which allows for more dense housing. R-2 zones in Athens include portions of West State and West Washington streets, as well as a small area on the south side of Richland Avenue.

Athens resident Rob Delach, who sits on the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, was the only resident who spoke in support of the ordinances. Delach said the proposals have been refined over several years and address many concerns of residents.

“I think that the planning commission went through and processed the feedback they got and mitigated those concerns,” Delach said.

Regulation of short-term rentals will spur investment into the community through property rehabilitation, create revenue for the city through transient guest tax income, and give low-income residents an additional revenue stream, Delach said.

Most speakers opposed the measures, though. Athens resident and incoming City Council member Alan Swank said that while the ordinances contain things that he likes, they don't provide a clear picture of how they will work in practice.

“It’s pretty tough to take a stand on this proposed ordinance, because there are too many unanswered questions,” Swank said.

Among the issues needing to be clarified are the owner's responsibilities and enforcement, Swank said. It's not stated if the owner must remain on the property for guests' entire stay, he said, and relying on complaints to identify noncompliant properties might not be enough. He also asked if the city's administrative capacity would be strained by the approval process.

Most of the current Airbnb properties within Athens city limits would not be permitted under the proposed ordinances, Swank noted.

“Many will not be able to enjoy the revenue that they’re currently getting,” Swank said.

Athens resident Jan Hodson was opposed to short-term rentals entering R-1 neighborhoods.

“I chose not to live next to motel or a hotel or a cute coffee shop or a bed and breakfast or any other type of business,” Hodson said.

The ordinance should amended to include provisions requiring hosts in R-1 neighborhoods to be present during the guest’s stay, she said.

Athens resident and former Athens City Council member Peter Kotses said he has lived next to an Airbnb for the past few months and has noticed “that what they contribute to the community was not much.”

“It was fine, but you had a house that was really not being occupied by a person invested in the community,” Kotses said. “I think special places are protected.”

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