CONYERS — By votes of 2-1 Tuesday morning, the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners denied each of two ordinances regulating short-term vacation rentals (STVR) in the county. Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. and Post 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington voted in favor of denial, and Post 2 Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams cast the opposing vote.
But the votes did not come without dissension among all three board members, with Washington saying she voted for denial because she did not feel the county had done enough to educate citizens on the issue, Nesbitt stating that the citizens had made their feelings clear that they want a ban and that if the ordinances were denied, the issue would be over, and Williams declaring that a denial of the ordinances put the county back to where it was before with no way to regulate STVRs.
The issue over whether or not the county should adopt and enforce ordinances governing STVRs, many of them marketed under the Airbnb brand, or ban them altogether has been a hot and heavy one. Short-term vacation rentals have come under fire following several incidents of violence, noise, damage to property, and traffic congestion at STVRs in the county during the past year. Many residents voiced support of a total ban on STVRs at numerous meetings.
Two ordinances regulating STVRs were drawn up by the Planning and Zoning Department at the direction of Nesbitt. The first ordinance was for “Limited Lodging” short-term rentals, where the property is occupied by the owner during the rental periods, with guests just renting rooms in the house. The second ordinance was for “Vacation Rentals,” where guests rent the entire house and the owner is not present during the rental periods. Both had similar requirements.
The Rockdale County Planning Commission recommended denial of both ordinances, citing concerns over the county not having enough resources to enforce the ordinances and the feeling that residents would rather see a total ban.
The ordinances came back before the BOC Tuesday for a second reading and final vote. Planning and Zoning Director Kc Krzic advised the commissioners that after having received comments from the public, staff had several recommendations for changes in the ordinances and requested that the second reading and final vote be deferred.
Williams made a motion to defer the second reading and Washington seconded it.
But Nesbitt said he was “in a totally different place” than the other two commissioners with regard to the ordinances.
“I think that we’ve heard and we’ve talked about this all summer long. I’ve heard from residents all over Rockdale County. I have already made up my mind and my decision... I don’t support it. I’m going to vote to ban this. This should not happen in Rockdale County. This community is not ready for this. This is not the time. The people of this community have spoken very loudly and very clearly.”
Many in the audience applauded Nesbitt on his stand.
Williams responded that to her, if the BOC voted to deny the ordinances, it would not do anything as far as banning STVRs.
“All that does is put it back to where we were, with no oversight all, and no collection of hotel/motel taxes,” she said. “So to ban them means to start all over again... If we vote ‘No’ on this, it just goes back to the way it was with no oversight whatsoever.”
The ordinances included requirements for collection of hotel/motel taxes.
Washington stated that she was initially for a ban when the issue came up, but when Nesbitt had the planning department develop the ordinances and she became better educated on the subject, she could see the benefits of the ordinances and the concerns of not having any regulations.
“I think to have staff go through all the things that they’ve done,” she said, “to have us go through all the education and personal research, and then say, ‘Well, the citizens of Rockdale County don’t want it,’ I don’t think the citizens of Rockdale County understand how deep this is going right now… I’m very disappointed that we are at a place where you’re giving direction to do one thing, and then all of a sudden you stop in the middle of us trying to actually control something.”
Following further discussion, Washington made a motion to deny the first ordinance. Nesbitt seconded and the vote was 2-1.
Nesbitt then made a motion to deny the second ordinance, and Washington seconded it. During discussion, Williams asked what will happen next.
Washington stated that she felt the county can do better than the ordinances that were presented.
“I think that with us accepting this ordinance the way it is,” Washington said, “we haven’t done enough education, public input piece, we haven’t done anything to unify both sides. I don’t think that we’re at a place with this ordinance where we’ve done all we can to educate the citizens of Rockdale County.”
Nesbitt responded that if they deny the ordinance, he feels the issue is settled.
“My decision is crystal clear. I feel like the county has done an excellent job hearing from the citizens. I think the Planning and Development Department has done a fantastic job bringing forth the facts. I think it is now laid before us and it is time for us to make a decision. My vote is to deny it, which means for it to be absolutely over. I’m not interested in talking about this another day or another month.”
Williams said she wanted to make it clear to the citizens what will happen if the ordinance is denied.
“If we deny this, I want it understood that nothing has changed,” she said. “This is not a ban on short-term rentals. That was never the ordinance that was presented to us. And so I want them to understand this, that we have gone back to where we were with no oversight whatsoever, and I want to make sure they know that.”
Nesbitt said the responsibility had been placed back where it belongs — on law enforcement.
“The citizens have spoken to us about what they don’t want us to embrace and encourage in this community, and that’s Airbnbs,” said Nesbitt. “As we come upon these operations functioning and happening in Rockdale County, surely we can send a letter out of our Planning and Development Department that we don’t allow that. Then we send a copy of the letter to the Sheriff’s Office and say please enforce it.”
But Williams resisted.
“We can’t send a letter that says that if we haven’t passed an ordinance that says that,” she said, “and we are not passing or denying an ordinance that says that.”
Nesbitt ended the discussion by telling the commissioners he had made his decision and they had a decision to make. He then called for the vote, and it was 2-1 to deny the second ordinance.