By LANDON WOODROOF
An ordinance that would strictly define what constitutes a single-family dwelling in Nolensville passed in a 3 to 2 vote at Thursday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.
The ordinance would effectively prohibit short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs, in town by stating that “no single-family residence or portion thereof may be rented out to any tenant(s) for a period of less than three months.” There is an exception for bed and breakfasts in certain zoning districts.
The ordinance was recommended by Nolensville’s Planning Commission at its December meeting in a 6 to 1 vote.
Proponents of the ordinance portrayed their positive votes as attempts to forestall a possible outbreak of short-term rentals in town, while opponents worried about the enforceability of the ordinance and countered that short-term rentals could be beneficial to the town.
Mayor Jimmy Alexander had introduced the ordinance to the Planning Commission in December. On Thursday, he reiterated some of his main points from that earlier discussion, saying he was moved to take action on the issue due to many negative stories he had heard about short-term rentals in Nashville.
He said short-term rentals were devastating certain neighborhoods in Nashville and expressed a hope that Nolensville could get ahead of the issue.
“If Airbnbs are eventually banned in Nashville—they probably won’t be, there will probably be some kind of compromise—the next closest place for someone to look for expanding their business would be Nolensville I think,” he said.
Alderman Larry Felts also voiced his negative impressions of short-term rentals.
“I have not heard one single word on TV in favor of it,” he said. “Every word I’ve heard on the news is against it, and I can honestly say right now I do not want that happening next door to me, on either side of me, across the street or to any of my friends.”
On the other side of the debate, Alderman Brian Snyder was in favor of taking some more time to look into the issue before voting on it.
“I hate for us to just pass something that we may not have enough information about,” he said.
Snyder took a more favorable view of short-term rentals, talking about the tax dollars and other positives he felt they could potentially generate.
“I just feel like we may be missing out on an opportunity that could also generate some really cool things for our town,” he said.
Alderman Tommy Dugger had some practical concerns about the ordinance.
“How are we going to monitor it, and how will we enforce it?” he asked. “What’s the penalty?”
Town Engineer Don Swartz noted that the same could be asked about many ordinances.
“Very few of the ordinances we have are very easy to enforce, but that doesn’t stop us from enforcing them,” he said.
Planning Director Sarah Sitterle had explained last month that Nolensville’s municipal code in these matters is largely exclusionary: if something is not listed as a permitted use, than it is not allowed. She said enforcement of violations related to single-family dwellings would be easier with this ordinance.
“If you don’t have something more clearly defined it makes it extremely difficult to investigate and pursue things like that,” she said.
Swartz made a similar point.
“If you have something beyond the scope of the single family [dwelling] you have a violation,” he said.
There was some discussion about what exactly the ordinance would prohibit. Vice Mayor Jason Patrick asked if a person was allowed to have roommates under the terms of this ordinance.
“I don’t think the intent of this is to rule out roommate situations,” Town Attorney Bob Notestine said.
Swartz said a distinction was made in the ordinance between people who were simply renting a room versus those who were considered members of the household and had full household privileges.
If the town wished to allow short-term rentals in the future, they would have to take additional steps to do so.
“What this does is make it necessary to create a new permit process for an Airbnb to get around this definition,” Swartz said.
The aldermen still have time to iron out some of the language of the ordinance if they want to. Before it becomes law, it has to go through a public hearing and a second reading.