Council hears debate on Airbnbs, whether they alter character of neighborhoods

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    Cherith Austin, left, who earns a living cleaning Airbnb houses, chats with Kathleen Nolte outside city council chambers Tuesday. (Photo David Tulis)

This house on Tennessee Avenue in St. Elmo wins city council nod as a short-term vacation rental amid debate whether rentals diminish the family quality of a neighborhood. (Photo David Tulis)

Disputes over Airbnb rentals fizzle before City Council on Tuesday as a contested case devolves into friendly expressions of mutual regard.

The city’s legislature has four cases to rule upon. But only one gives evidence of anything like a conflict.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

It concerns a red brick house in St. Elmo on Tennessee Avenue, with the critic residing up a hill on the next street. The parties agree to try to preserve the local economy and lococentric flavor of the old neighborhood at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

Kathleen Nolte says she doesn’t oppose the application for an Airbnb house owned by business partners Peter Upton and Adam Lutz. Rather, she urges council members to come up with a plan to prevent neighborhoods from becoming with hotels dressed up as residential dwellings.

Will Airbnb alter landscape, hurt poor people?

Mrs. Nolte says she “agrees with everything they have said” but she is worried that no one “at the city and the planning level is actually keeping an eye on how many vacation rentals are being operated within a certain amount of land. So, his is right next to another, and that one I don’t know who the owner is, either.

“So if we continue to have case by case decisions made without an overall strategic plan,” the city could become like New Orleans and other cities where people “will have a hard time finding affordable housing to rent or a year or more, because it is more profitable for somebody to rent out a vacation home short-term basis,” she says.

“We’ve had quite a few people from St. Elmo,” Mr. Katz says. “They want to bring family into town, the nearest hotel might be across town, but they can have somebody a walk away spend time with them. That’s a real joy. We keep a pretty tight watch on bookings. We don’t allow loud parties.”

Mr. Katz is a man whose manner exudes a sense of glad tidings. Though his Christian system of life and practice is known for liberating slaves and defying tyrants, he utters a sharp negative. More than half of homeowners in St. Elmo, he says, are evading the permitting process.

Becoming Gatlinburg

He doesn’t know how many short-term rentals are too many, but promises he won’t contribute “to turning St. Elmo into Gatlinburg.”

Mrs. Nolte, engages afterwards a friendly chat with the two business partners who plan to have Airbnb services in their Old Brick House on a hill.

Mr. Katz says one benefit of Airbnb is that houses have frequent turnover, which means work for people such as Cherith Austin, who enjoys flexible work and is free to bring her two young children to work.

Mr. Upton says he agrees with Mrs. Nolte about Airbnb density. If the city is not careful, “you don’t have a neighborhood, you have a bunch of mini-hotels. We definitely agree with that, and we want to avoid that situation.”

Three other disputed properties were quickly approved, as opponents did not show up.

Frank and April Collins have fixed up a house for Airbnb on Kelly’s Ferry Road, and win easy approval despite a neighbor’s objection. The neoghbor is a no show. (Photo David Tulis)

The house of the right, 26 Trewhitt Street near the North Shore, wins city council approval for Airbnb or HomeAway despite an initial neighbor complaint. (Photo David Tulis)

Dr. Elenora Woods of the local chapter of NAACP honors retiring assistant police chief Edwin McPherson. (Photo David Tulis)

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