Atlanta City Council approves BeltLine tax, short-term rental regulations

The Atlanta City Council approved two major pieces of legislation – a new BeltLine tax district and short-term rental regulations – during a marathon meeting on March 15 that included three hours of public comment, a dozen amendments, and flaring tempers.

The Atlanta BeltLine special service district (SSD), which will see a 2-mill increase in taxes for commercial properties and apartment complexes located 0.5 miles on either side of the 22-mile trail, was approved by a majority of the council. Michael Julian Bond, Howard Shook, and Natalyn Archibong voted against the legislation, while Jennifer Ide abstained stating she had a financial interest in property on the BeltLine. Antonio Brown missed the meeting due to illness.

Archibong introduced an amendment to remove BeltLine parcels in the city that are located in DeKalb County. “DeKalb has never had any benefit from the BeltLine, and now it’s suddenly being taxed,” she argued, but her amendment failed to advance.

Then there was the short-term rental legislation, which lasted for three hours and included Councilmember Howard Shook introducing a dozen amendments in an attempt to clamp down on the proliferation of homes being used for Airbnb rentals.

The legislation sets up a framework that will allow the city to tax and require licensing and registration for those operating short-term rental properties.  Shook’s amendments had little success, while several were declared potentially unconstitutional by the city’s law department.

One of the amendments that failed attempted to limit the number of visitors guests could have on the property and impose a curfew that required guests to be inside the property after 11:30 p.m.

Another of the amendments, which would have enforced a 1,000 foot limit between short-term rental homes, strayed into zoning territory. And the zoning issue was the crux of what many of Shook’s amendments were driving at.

Shook originally introduced a zoning paper on the issue last year, but he accused fellow council members Matt Westmoreland and Andre Dickens of ignoring his concerns and watering down his proposal by introducing the legislation that ultimately passed 14-1. Shook was the lone no vote.

“I’m sticking up for my constituents,” an angry Shook said after the vote, commenting that the legislation passed would do little to stem the tide of so-called “party houses” and neighborhoods being inundated by short-term rentals. “We are fating our constituents to live next to these party houses. There might be one on both sides and across the street. These short-term rentals are creating holes in the fabric of our neighborhoods.”

Councilmember Ide said a zoning paper on short-term rentals was coming later in the year.  “It’s very important to set up a system of regulations and bring these short-term rentals into a system of taxation that puts them on par with hotels and motels,” she said, dismissing Shook’s comments as a “temper tantrum.”

Westmoreland defended the legislation, noting that the city’s Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs) had reviewed the ordinance and strengthened it with their suggestions.

“I don’t think rentals – short or longterm – create holes in our communities,” Westmoreland said. “Residents are using short-term rentals to make a living and to be able to continue to live in the city. I think we heard loud and clear that there wasn’t any desire to ban them completely, but to regulate them instead. That’s what passed.”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley is the editor of Atlanta Intown.