Five Points residents expressed their dissatisfaction with Airbnb “party houses” and other issues in their neighborhood at a well-attended town hall meeting at the ACC Library last week.
Organized by Athens-Clarke County commissioners Mike Hamby, Allison Wright and John Culpepper, the town hall meeting began with five quick presentations from senior ACC staff members on issues of importance to the Five Points neighborhood. ACC Manager Blaine Williams spoke about a TSPLOST project that will provide $1.5 million in upcoming improvements for the Five Points intersection. ACCPD Chief Jerry Saulters gave an update on crime, which is generally down with the exception of theft, fraud and DUI, which were up 7–10% from 2022. Traffic engineer Tim Griffeth spoke about speeding in neighborhoods and how that might be addressed through a new residential traffic management program.
ACC Assistant Planning Director Bruce Lonee was the last to speak and was tasked with giving two presentations. He spoke first about how the local government is planning to accommodate the large number of new residents anticipated to arrive in Athens over the next couple decades. He also explained the details of a proposal to regulate Airbnbs and other short-term rentals.
Lonee’s last presentation sparked much of the discussion during the rest of the meeting from the roughly 70 people in attendance. The ACC Commission will be voting on a proposal to regulate short-term rentals at its Feb. 6 meeting, but it’s not nearly strong enough for many Five Points residents who spoke at this town hall.
The proposed regulations would stop short-term rentals from operating in single-family neighborhoods after a two-year sunset period unless they are run by someone who lives in the house. Most cities in Georgia don’t have a sunset provision at all, but even so, one speaker called the two-year sunset “overly generous” because short-term rental operators would have two years free from most regulations.
Another speaker from the Five Points neighborhood gave a long story about a short-term rental next to her house that has disrupted her life with noise and light disturbances, stormwater overflow and a large amount of gravel dumped on the lot that’s been clogging sewer grates. The owner of this particular rental lives out of town, leaving her with no one to complain to besides the government.
“There are 35 absentee owners that we know of in Five Points. Out-of-city, out-of-state and maybe even out-of-country owners who buy these homes, rental conglomerates, business ventures,” she said. “Why are these hotels allowed in single-family neighborhoods? Do homeowners have any right to the peace that should come with home ownership in Five Points?”
Hamby reassured her that the local government would remove the gravel soon and that he would stay in touch with her to see what else he could do.
The commission seems very likely to pass the short-term rental regulations next month, which would prevent out-of-town landlords from operating such rentals in single-family neighborhoods. But two years is a long time to wait for some homeowners. “For two years, [we’re] going to have to live with it,” bemoaned one resident.
Assuming the ordinance is passed next month, the local government will establish a new short-term rental coordinator position and hire a contractor to manage a comprehensive database of short-term rentals in Athens. The new employee and database will allow the local government to enforce regulations on these sorts of properties for the first time. Going further, Hamby told the audience that the proposed short-term rental regulations were just the start of the local government’s efforts to rein in disturbances in single-family neighborhoods.
“Once we get that software and that short-term rental person on board, then we can go and look at the other ordinances we have on the books,” Hamby said. “Seems to me we have other ordinances that can help address [it], noise ordinance and parking.”
Not everyone who spoke was in favor of the proposed regulations. “I am a 15-year short-term rental owner in Five Points,” one resident said. “I’ve never gotten any grade less than five stars there. A few bad apples make us all look bad. Not all short-term rentals are causing problems.” This rental owner then asked if he’d be able to continue his operation when the two-year sunset period expires. Unless he lives on the property, the answer is probably no, although that kind of short-term rental will still be allowed in commercial zones and in other areas with a special-use permit.
Pedestrian and traffic safety was also a big topic at the town hall. Former ACC commissioner Russell Edwards spoke up to ask why more isn’t being done to improve safety on our roadways. “About every 10 months, at the intersection of Alps and Atlanta Highway somebody tries to cross and dies,” Edwards said. “I know a lot of these corridors are controlled by GDOT. I guess I’m curious to hear the perspective of the city leaders; what are y’all doing to advocate for safety from GDOT? It’s kind of like we’re moving in the wrong direction.”
In response, Saulters told Edwards that there was an abnormally high number of fatalities last year and suggested a potential reason for it. “We had 21 fatalities in Athens-Clarke County last year. We normally have 10–15,” he said. “We’ve had several pedestrian fatalities, unfortunately. Some of those could be suicides.” Saulters did not indicate why he believes that some of the fatalities were suicides.
Hamby also spoke up to defend his record on safety. “There’s been several instances where we’ve put sidewalks in along Atlanta Highway,” Hamby said. “Another issue we addressed a couple years ago was on Timothy Road where we lowered the speed limit.”
Edwards could be a potential opponent for Hamby in this year’s election. The state legislature placed Edwards into Hamby’s district during redistricting in 2022, which prevented Edwards from running for re-election that year. Wright is also up for re-election this May.
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