Short term vacation rentals in Chattanooga are hitting new stumbling blocks, including concerns from private schools that students may be endangered by sexual predators.
The City Council, which was due to take up the issue on first reading on Tuesday night, heard earlier in the day from several private school administrators with the concerns. Instead, the panel delayed action for two weeks.
Main sponsor Chip Henderson asked the Regional Planning Agency staff to convene a meeting of those interested in the topic to further hash out issues. He said, “We need to get everybody in one room.”
Autumn Graves, who heads GPS, asked that “safety zones” be set up around the schools since she said the guests at the rentals near the North Chattanooga school “will have access to 12- and 13-year-old girls who may not recognize the best people to be hospitable to.”
She said she has information that the rentals are sometimes used for drug drops, prostitution and sexual assaults.
Expressing similar worries, and asking for more time for input, were the leaders of St. Nicholas School and St. Peter’s Episcopal School.
Councilman Henderson said the request would need to be extended to public schools as well and also include such facilities as day cares.
Phillip Clay, a short term vacation rental host in East Brainerd, said he had a strong interest in working out an ordinance to allow hosts to operate within a legal structure. But he said he felt he had not been given a chance for input.
He said, “It seems like something is being slipped through that possibly is going to create issues.”
Several council members also expressed concerns.
Councilman Darrin Ledford said he was bothered that it was “taking away the right to a rezone.”
Councilwoman Carol Berz said it might be best to go back to using the downtown overlay area as the initial location for the rentals, rather than trying to add in some areas and take away in others.
Council members Demetrus Coonrod and Anthony Byrd cited concerns about tearing up neighborhoods over the issue. Councilman Byrd asked, “Is it worth all this uproar in our community?”
Councilwoman Coonrod said she would not mind being a host, but she said her Dalewood neighborhood is opposed. She asked if the process could remain as a zoning matter or with special permits.
Councilman Henderson said the present system is not workable because it requires changing to an R-3 or R-4 zone that makes many neighbors uncomfortable even though they might not have a problem with the rentals. He said they want their neighborhoods to stay R-1.
He said there are currently 450 to 500 short term vacation locations in the city now, but only about 25 have bothered to get the proper zoning.
He said there are over 100 websites in the city touting the rentals.
He asked the council to “stay on track” with implementing the policy.