Lookout Mountain is one of the most charming places in the United States. It's beautiful, history laden, iconic and even faintly exotic. Whenever I'm showing someone around Chattanooga for the first time, I always include a trip up the mountain, stopping by Point Park before cruising along the brows.
Only recently, though, did I learn some locals would like my visits to be as brief as possible — preferably extending no longer than Rock City's operating hours and definitely not lasting overnight.
Earlier this week, Lookout Mountain, Tenn., officials voted to have their zoning rules changed, disallowing vacation rentals of less than 30 days while setting aside the rest of the town for single-family residences only. The message was clear: Move here or move on.
Apparently, some residents have become worried that short-term rentals (aka, property owners renting their homes out to vacationers) will wreak havoc on the tranquility of their neighborhoods. Just how large is this destructive tsunami of part-time rental properties? Get ready for it. Batten down the hatches.
A half dozen.
Six! According to one person's search, they found a whopping six properties listed on various online vacation platforms. There goes the neighborhood, indeed.
During Tuesday's town meeting, two residents appealed to commissioners to put a stop to the mountain's pending rental reckoning. In response, officials directed City Attorney Brian Smith to overhaul zoning ordinances and ban homeowners from renting out their houses to vacationers.
I'd like to draw your attention to the fifth and sixth words starting off that last paragraph: "two residents." That's amazing. A couple of disgruntled locals from the same street approached the town commission and successfully influenced policy change for an entire town. Talk about efficiency. They should be the envy of every "change-maker" (that's what we're calling them now, right?).
At a time when most cities are trying to figure out how to best accommodate the shifting rental landscape (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) — finding equitable ground among property owners, their neighbors and the established hotel industry —Lookout Mountain seems more inclined to employ a scorched earth policy. Commissioner of Fire and Police Jim Bentley said they voted for the change due largely to safety concerns. Echoing him, Commissioner of Public Works Walker Jones noted, "It's not many houses, but when it's next to you, it's a problem."
So let me get this straight. Non-locals are welcome to drop coin at restaurants and tourist spots, but if we want to stay longer we're viewed as threats? Good to know.
But there is a greater issue at hand in this rezoning matter than a perceived spirit of inhospitality. It's the scary notion that a handful of residents can use a small body of government to dictate what their neighbors can and cannot do with their own property. It's collective, yet legal, bullying.
Again, there is no threat of a chicken processing plant relocating up Ochs Highway and there is no Hilton Lookout Mountain Resort being undercut by unregulated travel lodging. This is a simple case of six homeowners wanting to use their own property to make some extra revenue, and a few of their neighbors feeling threatened by the presence of faces they don't recognize. Property rights, what are those?
The deal isn't sealed just yet. Before the new zoning rules can be finalized, they must be approved by the Hamilton County Planning Commission. Once that's done, the regulations are then sent back to Lookout Mountain for two readings and two votes on the changes. During that period other residents may push back against the alterations if they so choose.
Hopefully they will.
Contract David Allen Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.