SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah city leaders must find a compromise between booming tourism and the interests of long-term residents when it comes to short-term vacation rentals.
The tourism department is putting a resolution together to present to the city manager this month.
The fact that residents want their voices heard is what sparked this debate. They don't want the potential profits from tourism to minimize their views on an issue they feel threatens their neighborhoods.
Brick roads and historic homes are almost synonymous with Savannah. So much so that millions of people are visiting this city every year.
"We do want people to come and visit here. We love that. That's a huge part of our economy and a part of our message to the rest of the country is to come and visit Savannah. At the same time, we need to meet the needs of the permanent residents here as well," said Ardsley Park Neighborhood President Nick Palumbo.
Palumbo speaks for a lot of residents when it comes to short-term vacation rentals.
"The neighbors have the interest in the neighborhood so we want to make sure that the people who live here decide about the neighborhood. Not just the business entities and institutional interests," Palumbo said.
The city held two meetings Monday with stakeholders on both sides of the issue. Some things they're considering include the percentage of short-term rentals to allow in one neighborhood, the percentage in one block, and how to regulate the industry.
"I think we can all work together to get to a common goal. It's just a matter of getting to that point and figuring out what's the best strategy for our community," said Bridget Lidy, the director of the tourism and ambassadorship for the city.
"It would be hard otherwise to live a peaceful life in Savannah the way it's going. There's just such an influx and the residents feel neglected," said Andree Patterson, president of the Victorian District Neighborhood Association.
The council tabled a decision to place a 90-day moratorium on short-term rental licenses. That decision will be back up in the June 22 council meeting.
"It's important to seek a balance. We want to make sure that you have a city that the people who work here can afford to live here. While at the same time maintaining our title as the hostess city," Palumbo said.
Finding that balance is what's proven to be difficult. People in favor of the short-term rentals told us they provide a huge economic benefit to the city. They also dispute the claim that they attract bad renters who disrupt neighborhoods.
We reached out to several short-term rental companies who were at that meeting but never heard back. As it stands right now, about 7 percent of properties in Savannah are approved and licensed for short-term rentals.
Savannah is already on pace for the highest number of short-term vacation rentals submitted in a year. It was in 2014 when Savannah City Council enacted the first rental ordinance.
In 2015, the City accepted 388 applications. In 2016, that number was 266 applications. So far this year, 182 applications have been accepted.