Cigarette boats, party houses and even home invasions — these were some of the concerns raised by city residents who opposed an amendment to Gainesville’s rules on short-term rentals.
The amendment — which would allow short-term rentals of no more than 15 days in residential-office zoning districts — was approved unanimously by the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board and will go before the City Council March 1 for final action.
Many of the people who opposed the amendment, however, seemed to misunderstand its scope, wrongly believing the changes would allow Airbnbs and the like in their neighborhoods.
“Just to be perfectly clear, we are not proposing to allow for short-term rentals or lodging services within our residential districts,” said Matt Tate, Gainesville’s deputy director of community and economic development. “We want to protect our neighborhoods. We heard loud and clear from the community and others that this is not something that the community wants in our established neighborhoods.”
Their fears may have been spurred by an Airbnb already in a residential neighborhood, and that its continued operation could have set a precedent. After the city demanded Phillip Brown stop operating a home at 725 Mountain View Circle for “lodging services,” he filed an appeal. That appeal is contained in the meeting agenda but was later withdrawn after the agenda had already been published.
One resident who lives on the lake said his neighbors were “intimidated” after confronting a person who was renting out an Airbnb in their neighborhood.
“We had four people that got completely intimidated and scared by one of these owners in our neighborhood who rented to some people that had some cigarette boats,” he said.
He said he heard a deafeningly loud noise one day and went outside to investigate.
“Right across the cove, maybe about 150 yards or less, were these cigarette boats just flying on the lake,” he said. “It was dangerous, it was loud and they had no respect for the people in our neighborhood.”
He said his neighbors asked the boat owners to be more courteous and keep the noise down, but they were told to mind their business or else.
“These people are scared,” he said. “Some of them, they put bars on their windows, if you can believe that, and they’ve even had exit strategies for if they have a home invasion. This is how bad it got.”
C.J. Greene, who said she operates Airbnbs in Gainesville and Hall County as well as on Georgia’s coast and in North Carolina, told the planning board that properties like hers bring business to the city and increase property values.
She downplayed the narrative that short-term rentals are used as party houses and disturb the peace in neighborhoods. Most of the people who rent Airbnbs, she said, are “here to see grandma,” for example.
In an interview afterward, she said she understands that operating residential Airbnbs in the city is technically illegal. But she is “not so much worried” as she is “excited to see hopefully the city embrace more of what the county is doing and imposing a hotel tax, because we bring good business to the city of Gainesville.”
“If Gainesville wants to continue to grow and to promote themselves as a recreation destination using the lake and the hiking and all that we have to offer, they’ve got to get on board with offering people places to stay.”