December 4, 2019 10:14:57 AM
STARKVILLE -- Aldermen will not vote to place restrictions on short-term rental properties such as Airbnbs in residential neighborhoods at their Dec. 17 meeting as originally planned, and the city will look into possible regulations for long-term rental properties before bringing the issue back up for debate.
The board voted 5-2 on Tuesday to table the short-term rental discussion, which began two months ago and has at times become contentious, after aldermen and members of the public claimed the proposed ordinance unfairly singled out short-term rentals and would only be reasonable if it addressed long-term rentals as well. If passed at the next meeting, the ordinance would have become part of the city's updated unified development code, which will still receive a vote on Dec. 17.
The board held its first scheduled public hearing for the ordinance, and Oktibbeha County NAACP President Yulanda Haddix read aloud a letter she wrote to the board and later provided to The Dispatch. She wrote the proposed license fee for short-term rentals was "discriminatory" and should also apply to long-term rentals - where tenants sign leases to take up residence.
"The short-term rental ordinance would impair a fundamental right of private property ownership by making the 'right to rent' a mere privilege, subject to permit approval," Haddix wrote.
City Attorney Chris Latimer responded by citing chapter 17 of Title 27 of state statute, which requires all businesses to pay for a privilege license. Businesses with three employees or fewer must pay $20 for the license, and this law is the source of the city's proposed $20 short-term rental application fee, Latimer said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver took issue with the fee and asked the board to vote to remove the second public hearing and the vote on the proposed ordinance from the Dec. 17 agenda.
"In good faith, I don't think we can look our constituents in the face and say we're going to vote on short-term rentals and not vote on long-term rentals," he said.
Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn joined Carver in voting to delay the short-term rental regulations. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk and Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty voted no.
Beatty called the motion a "stall tactic" in an interview after the meeting. The city should consider regulating long-term rentals, he said, but they cannot be combined with short-term rentals.
"They're two different issues and they're going to need to be regulated differently," he said.
Spruill: Short-term rental debate isn't over
Carver said he has received many complaints about long-term rentals from constituents but none about short-term rentals. He said in an interview that he was "obviously" trying to shut down the short-term rental debate and that the board should be more aware of which rentals cause more public concern.
"I think certain aldermen were maybe caught off guard with Airbnb complaints and had never fielded that type of complaint before, (so this was) kind of a rushed reaction to get something in place based on one complaint," Carver said.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she does not believe the short-term rental debate is over, although it is difficult to predict when the board will revive it.
"We've done due diligence for short-term rentals, and now we've got to do due diligence for long-term rentals and bring them back at the same time," said Spruill, who owns several long-term rental properties, including apartment complexes.
Haddix told The Dispatch she believed her letter impacted the board's decision. The national NAACP has a partnership with Airbnb to promote travel and economic opportunities for people of color, according to the letter.
"That's how a lot of people of color get to make money," Haddix said. "When you rent an Airbnb, you don't say, 'Is this a white rental or a black rental?' It's just a rental."
The city originally proposed a $300 license fee, a 30-night annual rental limit and a requirement that property owners live in the Airbnb. The 17th and most recent draft of the ordinance has no night limit or residency requirement, and all short-term residential rentals that have a permit before Dec. 31 will be allowed to continue as they are. A property's permit would be revoked for a year if the city receives three complaints with citations from the police or code enforcement division within a year.
The proposal only affects short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods and doesn't apply to multi-tenant facilities like apartment complexes.
Government overreach vs. 'good neighbors'
In addition to Haddix, three more people spoke against the proposed regulations at the hearing, and five people spoke in favor.
The argument in favor of the regulations from the start in May has been that short-term rentals change the integrity of Starkville's neighborhoods, drive up housing prices and compromise neighborhood safety by allowing strangers to come and go.
Ward 5 residents Dawn Reynolds and Bert Montgomery said the regulations are necessary.
"The ordinance will go a long way to protect the investments that permanent residents like my family have made and to ensure that the owners of short-term rental properties understand that you are expected to be good neighbors," Montgomery said.
Reynolds said she knows young professionals and families who have moved to neighboring counties because housing has become too expensive in Starkville. She also said it is difficult to know when someone's behavior is suspicious and potentially criminal when unfamiliar people regularly visit the neighborhood.
Those against the regulations have said the restrictions infringe on property rights and are potentially harmful to the local economy. Perkins echoed the opposition's concern about government overreach and fair treatment of different kinds of rentals.
"If we are so attuned to addressing the rental issue, let's put before this board, if it desires, a package that speaks to the entire rental market in the city of Starkville," Perkins said. "This is a matter of fairness and this is a matter of equity, in my opinion."
However, the board will have to deal with complaints about short-term rentals on a case-by-case basis if it does not pass an ordinance to regulate them, Sistrunk said.
"It becomes cumbersome when we're trying to give people the right to do this without having to (be) protested by individual cases," she said.
Carver said during the meeting that he rents out his house a few times a year for Mississippi State University sporting events, and Sistrunk mentioned this to The Dispatch after the meeting.
"I'm expecting a spike in the number of applications for business permits (tomorrow)," she said. "And I'm expecting the first one I see to be Alderman Ben Carver."
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