Natchez’ proposed Short-Term Rental Ordinance: Two sides of the coin
Published 11:39 am Sunday, May 28, 2023
As far back as my childhood, I have loved Natchez. For years, I wanted to live here, but that opportunity didn’t happen for me until 2016 when I set my sights on a foreclosed house that was in deplorable condition, desperately in need of some TLC.
I decided to purchase it, restore it, and put it on the short-term rental market using a platform that a few other investors in Natchez were just beginning to discover: Air B&B.
I did it the right way: I obtained a privilege license, following instructions provided by the City Planner, began paying taxes, and by now, many in Natchez know the rest of the story. I bought other properties, opened two full-fledged bed & breakfasts, and in 2020 Natchez elected me to be your mayor. Looking back, it’s all a bit of a blur!
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Since 2020, there have been many changes – in my life and also in Natchez. Thanks to your support, I now enjoy serving as a full-time public servant, and time restraints have forced me to close my two B&Bs (one I’ve sold and the other is on the market now).
And in Natchez, many investors have now done what I did in 2016: They have bought vacant, deplorable properties and transformed them into beautiful assets, welcoming countless visitors who, after COVID, enjoy having a place to themselves, many of them pet-friendly, and our Natchez Renewal has meant a complete reversal of what was a dismal real estate market.
Gone are the numerous “for sale signs” and property values have soared!
Of course, there are two sides to every coin.
Some in Natchez have been making appeals for our city to develop some policies to govern this growing sector out of concern that in time a proliferation of a “good thing” could have adverse consequences.
In response, the Natchez Planning Commission recently put forward a proposed Short Term Rental Ordinance, and it has now made its way through the process for the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to consider.
I will be the first to say that, as an owner of a STR, I have decided to recuse myself from the discussion when the official vote comes at a future meeting. I actually did this just the other night when the matter came up for the first time at our board meeting, as did Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith, who also owns a STR in Natchez.
As the city moves forward with consideration of this new ordinance, however, I want to make sure that the public has every opportunity to weigh-in on this important issue. Any rash actions could have a detrimental effect on our city, and we have a duty to make sure that our citizens are treated fairly.
A very important side of the coin to consider is this: We have many in our city who have, in good faith, invested significant dollars renovating properties in Natchez, most of them following every rule currently on the books, and we must be respectful of them.
While some of them may be absentee owners, they are doing a beautiful job of maintaining their properties with proper management – properties that just a couple of years ago were vacant. This is bringing a lot of people into our city on a daily and weekly basis, attending our events and supporting our economy. We must be careful not to close the door on tourism in a city that thrives on tourism as our number one industry.
The other side of the coin is equally important. One of the basic rights we all enjoy as Americans is the ability to have a say in what goes on in the community in which we live.
This is why we have rules that require “non-conforming” use of properties to go through a process of prior approval. The STR industry has posed some challenges to this in that, literally overnight, a homeowner can list their home as a short-term rental without any oversight.
I am sensitive to this, in addition to the concerns of some bed and breakfast and hotel owners desiring fairness and more rules and regulations for short-term rentals.
My appeal has been that there be no rush to passing this new ordinance without fully allowing the public to weigh in on the discussion.
I have asked that the draft ordinance be placed on the city’s website. It can be viewed online at www.natchez.ms.us. I have also asked that a public hearing be held at a later date, after work hours, so that the general public can have the opportunity to attend. This will occur at a special called meeting on Tuesday, June 20, at 6 p.m., to be held in the City Council Chamber Building, located at 115 S. Pearl Street.
This is an important issue for Natchez – and we must be careful to consider all sides. We are both a tourist town and a community more and more people are calling their forever home. If Natchez is to pass a Short-Term Rental Ordinance, we must take care that it is both fair and reasonable. Because Natchez Deserves More!
Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.