“That was a pretty aggressive goal based on what our growth had already been,” Westman Chin said. “But in 2018, we had 1.72 million visitors, so it got us really within striking distance of that number.”
With the growing number of tourists coming to Franklin came an increase in the number of short-term vacation rental properties in the city limits, rising from 220 active rentals in 2016 to over 500 in late 2019, according to AirDNA, a website that tracks the performance of short-term rentals.
As a part of the city of Franklin’s recently enacted citywide zoning ordinance, which was developed throughout 2019 and adopted at the end of the year, new limitations have been placed on owners and operators of short-term rentals within the city’s residential districts in order to preserve neighborhood character.
“We heard very clearly from residents the concern about short-term vacation rentals, bringing in commercial uses into residential neighborhoods and the intrinsic value of residential neighborhoods and neighbors,” said Kelly Dannenfelser, assistant director of planning and sustainability for the city. “To keep the residential zoning districts truly residential, we added additional use regulations in those districts.”
Maintaining residential character
The zoning ordinance, as passed at BOMA’s Dec. 10 meeting, requires new short-term rental properties to be confined to one lot per property and to have the owner reside on the property within residential districts in the city—districts where city staff said the majority of short-term rentals existed.
Short-term rentals already operating within residential districts before enacting the new ordinance are grandfathered in; that policy will still apply if the short-term rental is passed on to a blood relative.
In public discussions regarding the new ordinance’s limits on short term rentals, the majority of public input was in favor of the ordinance, while a few residents and operators of short-term vacation rentals had issues with the possibility of the ordinance interfering with their businesses.
“You hear stories from both sides,” Westman Chin said. “You hear the stories in neighborhoods where there are bachelorette parties and late-night partying and trash in the streets, and then, you hear the stories where people do exactly what they should do and they behave.”
Lynne McAlister, a Franklin resident and president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, praised the ordinance and spoke out against an influx of short-term rentals in the area that she said compromised the residential character of Franklin.
“Where I live now, within half a block, there are three Airbnb’s. Two of them are non-owner-occupied,” McAlister said. “I think the question we have to ask ourselves and wrestle with is, ‘Who are our neighborhoods designed for?’ ... The best tourist in the world cannot be a neighbor.”
However, Franklin resident Joseph Fuson said he had nothing but good experiences with people to whom he rented a home at a short-term rental he operated on Church Street. Fuson asked the Board of Mayor and Alderman not to extend the zoning’s limits in certain zones.
“I wouldn’t want you to extend [short-term rental limits] to the downtown area, to the [office residential] zone, to the commercial zones,” Fuson said. “These are the types of places [from which] we want these people coming into downtown. We don’t want hotels to be the only option because a lot of people don’t want to stay in hotels, but they want to come downtown and spend their money and enjoy this amazing city.”
Dannenfelser said there were no additional rules in the ordinance against operating short-term rentals in commercial districts, leaving homeowners in those areas the option to operate a non-owner-occupied rental.
“Short-term vacation rentals are permitted in the office residential district, the central commercial [district] and [the] downtown district, which are all in central Franklin, but commercial uses are already permitted in those districts, so it didn’t make any sense to require an owner to live there because there aren’t those residences nearby to protect,” Dannenfelser said.
City staff said all short-term vacation rentals, regardless of where they are located, require permit approval from the city in order to operate, the regulation of which is primarily complaint-based.
“[Short-term rentals] do have a fit for Franklin because we’re a very attractive tourist destination,” City Administrator Eric Stuckey said. “But we didn’t want to lose neighborhood character and cohesion just because we allowed these absentee-type short-term rentals to come in and prevail in certain neighborhoods.”