The Glynn County Commission voted to enter into the first phase of a short-term rental regulation and enforcement agreement Thursday.
Short-term rentals have a relatively short and spotted history in Glynn County. Most don’t present much of an issue for their neighbors, but some create significant hardship, county commissioner Peter Murphy said at the commission’s Thursday meeting, using the notorious Burton house, or Villa de Suenos, as an example.
To address the issue, county commissioners have been mulling over a contract with Host Compliance — a California-based consultant specializing in helping local governments regulate short-term rentals — for nearly a year now.
While he had been talking about the issue for longer, Murphy told The News in June 2018 that he’d invited the company to tell the full commission what it could offer Glynn County.
Host Compliance’s chief commercial officer, Paul Hetherington, did so in July of that year.
Commissioners spoke with Hetherington again in March of this year. As Murphy pointed out at the time, his efforts to pass short-term rental regulations hadn’t gone far in the interregnum.
That changed Thursday when the commission voted to enter into the first phase of an agreement with Host Compliance, a $5,000 ordinance-writing consultation. In the first phase, the company will help the commission regulate short-term rentals.
In the second phase, the county would contract with Host Compliance for a number of services to help the county track rentals and enforce the new rules.
The annual service fees come out to around $91,795 while company charges a one-time $5,000 fee for ordinance-writing consultation.
For that price, Host Compliance will provide online business registration and tax assessment to rental owners, maintain and regularly update a record of all rentals in the county, monitor rentals to make sure they’re complying with the rules and staff a 24/7 hotline residents can call to report non-emergency issues with short-term rental tenants.
The one-time fee will cover the company’s consultation services during the regulation-writing process.
“If we accept the proposal this evening we’ll be in the first phase, which will be the ordinance drafting process. As with all of the other ordinances the county adopts, there’s a process. (County) Attorney (Aaron) Mumford estimates this process is going to be three to six months in duration. There will be multiple meetings about the specifics and we have no obligation to adopt anything Host Compliance recommends,” Murphy said.
Mumford assured commissioners that if they decided not to go ahead with the second part of the agreement, they could drop the whole deal after paying the $5,000 ordinance-writing consultation fee.
Roughly two dozen or more opponents of short-term rental regulations turned out Thursday to oppose the proposed regulations and contract.
Opposition to the agreement with Host Compliance sprang up over the last few weeks as the possibility of regulations came to the full attention of local rental owners and the Georgia Short Term Rental Owners Association of Georgia.
St. Simons Island residents David Lewis, Wesley Joiner and Patrick Anderson, all three short-term rental owners or managers, spoke out against the proposed agreement during the public comment period Thursday.
They stated that there were better, less “antagonistic” ways to regulate rentals, that the county hadn’t been as transparent as it should, that it couldn’t provide enough complaints to prove the problem is severe enough to warrant regulations and that the regulations were being fast-tracked without input from rental owners and local “stakeholders.”
Lewis also said that he was surprised the county hadn’t done a market study to determine how new regulations would impact the rental economy.
Pam O’Dell, president of STROAGA, and a number of island rental owners and managers have advocated for light regulations and a peer oversight program to keep unruly tenants in line.
“All of us commissioners have gotten 20, 25 emails over the last couple of days. They mostly expressed outrage and indignation, which is the current coin in the realm. I think that there’s a bit of misinformation,” Murphy said.
First, he said Anderson’s claim that short-term rental regulations had been put on the fast track to approval was incorrect.
“I’ve never seen anything fast-tracked in Glynn County up to the present time,” Murphy said.
He also took issue with the claim by opponents of the Host Compliance agreement that the county hasn’t been transparent with the public. He noted multiple articles in The News and other local publications, interviews on a local radio talk show and numerous discussions in public meetings and town halls in which he’d brought the issue up.
First and foremost, he said the commission’s concern is safety.
“The first motivation is primarily the safety issue. It starts with occupancy numbers based on the number of bedrooms, the presence of routine safety equipment like smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in houses that are not owner-occupied but are rented out to the public. Multiple functional and accessible sites for egress in the case of a fire,” Murphy said.
The second major concern is the quality of life in single-family neighborhoods.
“It’s a situation where, in residential neighborhoods, established families now feel as if they’re living next to a motel. Trash is piled up, cans are overflowing and sometimes renters don’t know or don’t care what happens to the trash, it still becomes an issue for the neighbors,” Murphy said.
“Additionally ... if you get 10 cars in a Glynn Haven area and they’re parked up and down the street in front of some elderly couple’s house and they’ve got to walk three or four houses to get to their house, it becomes a quality-of-life issue. Noise issues don’t even need to be mentioned. They’re a basic part of this.”
Regulations would also level the playing field between short-term rentals and real estate businesses, bed and breakfasts, hotels and motels.
“Those that are paying the (bed) tax are at a disadvantage to those that aren’t paying the tax,” Murphy said.
Commissioners Bill Brunson, Allen Booker and Mike Browning expressed their support for at least the first phase of the agreement. Commissioners Wayne Neal
and David O’Quinn had concerns but ultimately voted in favor.
Commissioner Bob Coleman, however, took the opposite stance.
He felt the commission needed to table the agreement for a few weeks to talk it over with rental owners.
“We’re doing this because they put us up here to do it. We’re not doing this to tell them what we want to do. We’re doing this because they want us to, because they pay the taxes and they put us in these chairs. It’s not for us to sit here and tell them what we’re going to do and what they’re not going to do,” Coleman said.
He also asked to see some solid evidence to prove there is a serious issue with short-term rentals.
Ultimately, the commission approved the first phase of the agreement 6-1, Coleman opposed.
In other business, the commission voted to establish a new joint narcotics enforcement unit with the city of Brunswick, which will replace the Glynn/Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Called the Brunswick Glynn Special Investigation Unit, the new unit would investigate the same crimes GBNET did, said county Police Chief John Powell.
“This agreement will be for special investigative purposes and will cover the investigation of prostitution, human trafficking, illegal gambling, criminal street gangs ... and narcotics. The quality-of-life crimes that many of you have talked about tonight. These are also serious crimes that affect our community,” Powell said.
O’Quinn asked Powell to explain how the new unit will differ from GBNET.
“We have revamped the policies and procedures for investigative activity. This review has taken place between the city police department and the county police department, as well as we have restructured by adding additional supervision over the division to ensure we meet the demands of scrutiny and also that we meet the demands of accountability,” Powell said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the agreement with the city of Brunswick.
The commission also held a public hearing on its proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019-2020. It will have to approve the budget by the end of the month.
In other business, the commission voted to:
• Enter into a $64,175 contract for a new air chiller for the Old Glynn County Courthouse.
• Enter into a contract with the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club for the St. Simons Island Marina.
• Begin the process of putting Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020 on the 2020 presidential primary ballot.
• Declare July 27-Aug. 4 Gullah Geechee Nation Appreciation Week.
• Issue a conditional use permit to Samantha Vince for Nora’s at the Pier, a restaurant she plans to open in the Pier Village on St. Simons Island.
The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for June 20.