John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, discusses proposed policies concering short-term vacation rentals during Tuesday's City Council public hearing.
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Chip Henderson
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Cynthia Stanley-Cash speaks during a meeting about the Wilcox Tunnel at the Eastdale Youth and Family Development Center Monday, Feburary 1, 2016.
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Carol Berz

The public has now weighed in twice on proposed rules changes for operating short-stay vacation rentals in Chattanooga.

On Tuesday, the City Council hosted a public hearing on the new regulations, with a number of short-term vacation rental operators applauding the idea of new regulations and neighborhood association members from Bal Harbor and North Brainerd continuing to voice concerns over any changes. Both sides agreed that enforcement of laws — new or old — also generated concerns.

"It's a matter of balancing of rights, and I don't think we have it right yet," Councilwoman Carol Berz said.

Now, anyone wanting to use their home as a short-term vacation rental business must go through a rezoning process to designate their properties as R3 or R4 zones, which also allow apartments and offices. A rezoned status for a property remains even if a new owner acquires it.

The new regulations call for anyone who wants to rent a portion of their home for short-term vacation stays to apply for a certificate, have a business licence and meet fire safety standards. The new rules allow for short-term vacation rentals on properties zoned as R1 or R2 — designations for single-family residences or duplexes, respectively — but limit the number of rentable bedrooms on such properties to five. The limit goes up to nine for R3 or R4 properties. A short-term vacation rental certificate does not change hands if a new owner acquires the property.

"The benefits of purchasing a home is you would know who your neighbors are," real estate agent Patricia Roberts of Bal Harbor said.

Roberts asked if neighborhood covenants could prevent the granting of a short-term vacation rental certificate if the covenant disallowed such usage of a home.

While municipal law might allow certification, covenants were a matter of civil law, said John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

Several council members said they wanted the City Attorney's Office to research the matter and provide a firm answer.

Cynthia Stanley-Cash, president of the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association, asked council members to meet with her group next week to address their concerns.

"I think there is a win-win," Stanley-Cash said.

Radio personality Bill Lockhart, a short-term vacation rental host, voiced approval of new regulations and compared good and bad short-stay operators to "apples and oranges, or even pomegranates."

Another host cautioned city leaders that leaving the rezoning rules in place would just encourage some operators to continue to do it on the sly.

Several speakers were opposed to giving current short-term vacation rental operators six months to come into compliance with the new rules, if they are adopted by the City Council.

"Enforcement is a joke," Berz said, asking if code enforcement officers would check to ensure whether operators did not violate any bedroom occupancy limitations.

The planned method of enforcement calls for the city to adopt a web-based tool that compares properties advertised on Airbnb and similar short-term vacation internet booking sites to the city's certificate registry. Violators may be fined $50 per day while out of compliance.

A property may lose its certification if it is cited for state or city code violations twice within a 12-month period.

Councilman Chip Henderson has warned his colleagues that the state may step in if Chattanooga's rules for governing short-term vacation rentals prove too restrictive.

"If we just limit short-term vacation rentals to the rezoning, I think the state will certainly take a look at that and say it's onerous, too burdensome and too many are going to be rejected," Henderson has said.

The council, having postponed an earlier vote on the matter on Sept. 13, has agreed not to take the issue up for another vote until after Tuesday's public hearing. No date has been set for the next vote, according to the council's online agenda.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.