by William Haynes

The City of Franklin is one step closer to legitimizing short-term vacation rentals (STVR) after a recent vote by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The Board voted unanimously to move forward a zoning ordinance, which would add the businesses to the city’s use table. A second measure on the agenda Tuesday, which would add a STVR ordinance to the municipal code, was deferred to the June 9 voting session. City Administrator Eric Stuckey proposed the move, allowing the Board to consider the final zoning and municipal ordinances on the same date.

Currently, STVRs operating in Franklin are outside of their legal authority. The proposed ordinances allow property owners to obtain a business license and pay appropriate taxes for their services, as well as stipulate where the businesses are allowed to operate.

Chris Bridgewater, the Director of Building and Neighborhood Services for the city, said Franklin will not be issuing permits, a process where the city approves or disapproves a business. Once an applicant shows compliance with the safety standards in the ordinance, she can operate as a STVR.

STVRs’ existence was made known to Building and Neighborhood Services when business owners were trying to comply with the city by obtaining a business license. It was then the City realized there was a gap in zoning ordinances. As the measures have moved through the city government, both the business owners and the community at large seem to be on board with the proposals.

“I have not heard anything in opposition,” Bridgewater says. “Not one thing, which is very helpful.”

The zoning ordinance allows for STVR businesses to operate in the same zones as Bed & Breakfasts, which includes most residential areas. The ordinance to amend the municipal code establishes safety protocols, ensuring compliance with state fire marshal requirements.

Homes must have four bedrooms or less, sufficient smoke detectors, and homeowners insurance covering $1 million in liability to qualify as a STVR. Renters staying longer than 21 days cease to be short term, and become regular renters.

Should the Board of Mayor and Aldermen pass the two measures, applications with Building and Neighborhood Services will be available beginning Aug. 1. The businesses will be taxed at the same rate as hotels and other transient lodging.

4th Ward Alderman Margaret Martin questioned during the Board meeting what should be done about current STVRs, before the ordinances go into effect. The Board reached consensus that the current STVRs in operation will be allowed to do so until the new regulations are finalized.

Property owners rent private homes or a room in their home to travelers looking for an alternative to traditional hotels. This type of lodging has recently gained popularity through companies, like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), that list available rentals online and through apps.

Airbnb boasts $1.15 billion in economic activity to New York City alone, according to a recent press release. With most of that money going to businesses surrounding the host properties, Franklin hopes to encourage this on a smaller scale. Bridgewater says when he first brought it to the Board of Aldermen, they told him, “We’re into tourism. We want to promote this.”

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