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With vote near, vacation rental supporters make their case
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Homes sit stacked along the shoreline of Lake Lanier on Monday, March 19, the same day opponents of a new suite of regulations on vacation rentals was again discussed by the Hall County Board of Commissioners. On Thursday, March 22, the commission will take its final vote on new rules for rentals, which have seen their fair share of complaints from neighbors in close quarters with one another around the lake.

Defenders of vacation rental homes around Lake Lanier argued on Monday that Hall County needs better enforcement of its rules and not new regulations.

Since the end of 2017, the Hall County Board of Commissioners has made its way toward new, restrictive rules for vacation rental homes amid complaints of alcohol-fueled parties, cars choking small lakeside streets and garbage in neighborhoods.

However, supporters of vacation rentals have made their case to commissioners in the past few weeks, leading them to vote earlier this month to soften the regulations — increasing the limit of number of people allowed in a home at one time from six to 15 and allowing additional cars to park on a property.

Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, March 22

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Rentals are causing headaches for some property owners at the lake because of pent-up demand for lakeside accommodations. Beyond Lanier Islands — and even the resort has little in the way of beds with direct access to the lake — there are no commercial hotels on the lake.

It’s a Catch-22 for the county: Lake Lanier is a prime tourism draw for Hall, but there are very few commercial establishments getting them access to the lake on the same level as a vacation rental.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The Times on Monday, March 19, that lakes and oceans are the top destinations for travelers booking on vacation rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

In her comments to the commission, Dickson cautioned against over-regulating what she said had been a largely responsible industry.

“Over 500 bedrooms are available for short-term rental today in the county — that’s half the hotel inventory, and it’s only growing,” Dickson said.

The CVB estimates that 140 properties in unincorporated Hall, which doesn’t include homes in Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Oakwood, are available for rent. Her figure of 500 bedrooms is based on the number of bedrooms in the average lake home, which too is based only on unincorporated Hall.

She noted that less than 5 percent of the homes available for rent online are licensed through Hall County’s existing regulations, and as a result the county needed to focus more on increasing existing rules rather than layering more on.

“There are four major pain points with complaints: occupancy, parking, noise and trash,” Dickson said, advocating for an easier signup process for property owners currently renting their property. “The existing ordinance can resolve all of those issues.”

Jeff Hilton, another critic of the proposed rules, said they were “regulatory overkill” of all vacation rentals to stamp out “a few problem houses.”

Mandy Harris supports the new regulations and has appeared at several commission meetings. She asked on Monday that the commission move ahead with the tougher rules.

“If we had the codes on the books already to resolve these problems, why are we still talking about them? It seems like we should have already talked about the problem homes,” Harris said.

Other homeowners have talked about their own horror stories with vacation rentals to the commission, in Lake Lanier groups online and to The Times.

“People come to the lake to party. That’s what they want to do,” Barbie Skalleberg, who lives on high-dollar Strawberry Lane in Forsyth County, said in February. “If I rented a lake house, we would invite friends and have fun and everything.”

At the end of the meeting, Commission Chairman Richard Higgins again said the commission was trying to find common ground between the two sides on vacation rentals.

“We’re trying to listen to everybody, and we’re trying to make a good decision going forward,” Higgins said, adding that the group was trying to find a balance that was good for both the neighborhood and the property owner. “I think in the next couple of days we’ll go through all we’ve heard and see if (we can) come up with a more palatable motion.”