Becky Dodd Murr has been helping her mother rent out their old family home for almost three years. The four-bedroom house is right outside the city limits of Chickamauga, and the family is considering being annexed in, but only if the city comes up with agreeable short-term rental policies, said Murr.
Her mother, Katherine Dodd Hanna, has owned the property for over 50 years, and moved out to Colorado with Murr in 2017. They made the decision to rent out the property in June of that year. She and her mother visit Chickamauga two or three times annually to visit family, the house and their former church, she said.
"The Airbnb process has allowed my mother to keep her home, communicate with her guests about their activities in the Chickamauga and Chattanooga areas, and visit her home several times per year," Murr said.
She sees being in the city as a benefit. The property is surrounded on all sides by the city, so being annexed makes sense for them — if the policies are right, said Murr.
As it stands, properties in Chickamauga zoned R-1 residential are not permitted to operate short-term rentals, which fall under restrictions for hotels or motels. So to continue renting out her property, she would need to rezone the land.
Airbnb and VRBO homeowner Kristi Bubrig, who is a member of the Walker County Planning Commission, recently sold one of her short-term rental properties in the city and moved it to unincorporated Walker County. Bubrig said she favors the county's guidelines and "the flexibility of that governing team" in terms of the short-term vacation rental process.
City Manager Michael Haney said he could not discuss the possible new zoning or policies for short-term rentals before the Chickamauga Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 20. But residents won't be the only ones affected by the new proposals.
The city owns and rents out two short-term rentals at the large venues it also owns and operates. The city's two properties are zoned C-1 commercial, which allows them to be rented out as short-term rentals, said Haney.
A residence at the Gordon-Lee Mansion rents for an average of $205 per night. And a historic three-bedroom, two-bath home at Lee and Gordon's Mills is listed on short-term rental site VRBO for $145 on weekdays and $160 on weekends.
In the last year, Haney said the Lee and Gordon's Mills rental made over $15,000. He didn't have numbers for the other since it has only been in operation for a few months.
Both were previously rented out for long-term residential stays, but were switched over in 2018 and 2019 due to the lower wear and tear that comes with short-term rentals, said Haney. He estimates that the upkeep of the properties is only "a couple thousand [dollars]," including utilities.
Haney noted that short-term rentals generate tourism revenue, in addition to hotel/motel tax dollars. The city has a 5% hotel/motel tax in effect.
Unincorporated Walker County enacted rules relating to short-term rentals last summer, including a 5% hotel/motel tax that will jump to 8% later this year and requiring those renting out their properties to have a business license.
"We are fine with whatever the city and county come up with and we'll comply," said Murr.
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