Thunderbolt Passes First Ordinance on Short-Term Vacation Rental and Hotel / Motel Tax

This whole Thunderbolt home is available for short term vacation rental.

Thunderbolt became the last municipality in Chatham County to establish regulations on short-term vacation rentals.

The city council passed ordinances capping the number of rentals and setting a tourist tax at Wednesday’s meeting. The vote was 5-0 as board member Ed Drohan recused himself. Drohan has an STVR in Thunderbolt.

Council members said the bylaws are needed to help preserve Thunderbolt’s residential communities.

Following: Thunderbolt Mayor-elect Dana Williams: “We don’t want to lose our sense of community”

For every property operating as an STVR, that’s a loss of permanent residents and, therefore, a loss of population-based funding for the city.

“One thing that really worries me is that I have lived here for the past 50 years is the population decline,” said Mayor Beth Goette.

Over the past decade, the number of permanent residents has fallen to 2,556, a drop of 4.2%, according to 2020 census data.

Thunderbolt City Council member Edward Drohan owns this <a class=vacation rental on Louis Street.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/lkkjjAqCjtezFnBynEJUxA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/OcRQAb7Wo2zqoEERNYj1kg–~B/aD0xMzMyO3c9MjAwMDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/savannah-morning-news/ce83e40ed44bd392f98b43ba66317f43″/>

Thunderbolt City Council member Edward Drohan owns this vacation rental on Louis Street.

“During my campaign, I researched all the streets here and found that this town has over 50% rentals, including long term rentals,” Goette said.

The STVR ordinance notably sets a maximum number of 70 STVRs allowed within city limits, which may be an overestimate of the current number, according to city administrator Bob Milie. STVRs are units rented for 30 days or less often advertised on Airbnb, VRBO, and other vacation rental sites.

The ceiling of 70 properties excludes owner-occupied rentals. Council agreed that the limit can be increased if more properties are discovered in the city.

The ordinance creates a registration system to allow the city to track STVRs. Existing and new rentals will need to register and pay a fee to the city, as well as obtain a business license.

“In order to maintain the health, welfare and safety of the community and in particular the residential character of many areas of the city, there should be a limit to the number of short-term rental properties located in a city of the size of the city of Thunderbolt, ”the order read.

Previously: Thunderbolt passes resolution for first hotel / motel tax

With a formal means of tracking STVRs, the hotel / motel tax can also be implemented. Earlier this year, the council passed a state-approved hotel / motel tax resolution.

Now, with the two municipal ordinances in place, the tourist tax, a 6% tax levied on STVRs, can be collected. A portion of this revenue will finance the city’s tourism and marketing.

City Attorney Charlie Barrow and Goette have consulted with other towns in Chatham County, particularly Savannah and Tybee Island, on their relationship to the STVR issue.

Savannah currently has a cap on STVR of no more than 20% per neighborhood. Tybee Island, which has endured protracted and heated debates over STVR regulations in recent months, is currently subject to an STVR moratorium to conduct studies on how to control overgrowth on the island.

On Tybee, STVRs account for approximately 48% of overall properties and 38% of properties in residential areas. Their prevalence disturbs the inhabitants who denounce the effects of tourism destabilizing the feeling of community.

A short term vacation rental on 3rd Street in Thunderbolt.

A short term vacation rental on 3rd Street in Thunderbolt.

On the other side of the heated debate, some STVR owners view the regulations as an infringement of their property rights.

Bill Brooks, who owns an STVR in Thunderbolt, said he strongly believes in property rights, but also believes a cap is needed to preserve neighborhoods.

“I believe in a reasonable cap, but it’s not for me to decide how much,” Brooks said, “although I think the current number should be kept.”

As the owner, Brooks said he strives to be a good neighbor and keeps the property up to date and maintained, so as not to disturb surrounding residents.

“I have never had a call for the police department since owning this property,” he said.

Brooks, who lives in North Carolina, also points out that STVRs allow middle-class people like him to own a vacation home. He and his family travel to Savannah a few times a year, he said.

“Savannah is one of my favorite places in the world,” Brooks said. “The rent pays the expenses of the property with a reasonable profit. “

Yet he does not want “an overweighting of rentals over permanent residents.” And neither do Thunderbolt’s more permanent residents.

“Over the past five years, I’ve been able to see what’s going on,” Goette said. “We really need the income and we are landlocked. I don’t want to increase taxpayer dollars. “

Nancy Guan is the general-duty reporter covering the municipalities of Chatham County. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah Area Thunderbolt Passes First STVR Ordinance and Regional Tax

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