Florence city officials and owners of short-term rental properties will meet Thursday to discuss ordinance violations that Zoning Administrator Gary Williamson said must be addressed.
The meeting is a response to a letter dated May 31 that was mailed to the owners of 27 Airbnb or other short-term rental properties demanding that operations “cease immediately.”
The letter pointed out that transient short-term rental properties, such as Airbnbs, are not considered single-family dwellings, and therefore are in violation of the city’s R-1 and R-2 zoning regulations.
The ordinance allows exceptions for a bed and breakfast located within a historical district that has been granted a special exemption from the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment.
After fielding calls for two weeks from concerned owners of targeted properties, city leaders on Monday agreed to allow the 27 short-term rentals to continue to operate until a solution is found.
That about face makes you wonder why city leaders didn’t plan such a meeting with the rental property owners before sending out their threatening letter.
Regardless, city council members Kaytrina Simmons, Andy Betterton and Dick Jordan, Mayor Steve Holt, Planning Director Melissa Bailey and Williamson made the right choice Monday to delay any action until they could gather input from the property owners.
However, council President Jordan stressed “balance is needed” for any proposed solution to ensure the concerns of nearby neighbors (traffic, noise and influx of strangers) are factored into the equation.
City officials also must take into consideration the revenues a vibrant Airbnb system can produce. Alison Stanfield, operations manager for the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism, said Airbnbs generated $15,000 in lodging taxes last year.
“This is a trendy way to travel now and that will only increase,” Stanfield said.
Creating a level playing field is possible. Stanfield has pointed to Tuscaloosa and Nashville, Tennessee, as cities that have created a special permit option for Airbnbs and short-term rentals. And Bailey has mentioned existing ordinances can be amended, or special exemptions or licensing allowances can be created.
Thursday’s meeting is a logical first step to finding a workable solution.