City’s short-term rental ordinance goes back to the drawing board

Published 7:04 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023

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NATCHEZ — The city’s proposed short-term rental ordinance is going back to the drawing board.

City Planner Frankie Legaux told the Natchez Mayor Board and Aldermen at its meeting on Tuesday morning the proposed ordinance has been updated to include some suggestions made from those who attended and spoke at the public hearing on the matter, held June 20.

Some of the changes in the ordinance, Legaux said, involve onsite parking, signage, grandfather status and definition of the term property manager, among others.

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In addition, Legaux said the learned recently that the city’s fire chief and fire marshal are considering setting standards for the number and placement of fire extinguishers in short term rentals, and suggested that work should be included in the short-term rental ordinance.

She said the building inspector and fire marshal are required to make an inspection of short-term rental property in the city when they apply for a business license, which is sometimes also called a privilege license.

“In going out and inspecting the property, they were finding that some of the short-term rentals did not meet the standards,” she said.

What exactly those fire standards include remains to be determined, she said.

Mayor Dan Gibson and Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith recused themselves from the discussion because each has ownership interest in short-term rentals in Natchez.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Jo Frazier asked if Visit Natchez had been consulted during the formation of the rental ordinance. Legaux said no, though her planning staff was using resources of advertised short-term rentals on the Visit Natchez website to locate those that have not sought approval or a business license to operate. She said almost all of the short-term rentals, also called guesthouses, are located within the city’s historic district.

“Only two of them are not in the historic district,” she said.

Devin Heath, executive director of Visit Natchez, said he is concerned that the short-term rental ordinance not adversely effect future or current owners.

“I am very much a believer that we do need to make sure we have proper ordinances and proper guidance for continued development here in Natchez,” he said. “Short-term rentals are a huge component of the tourism industry here in Natchez, more so than in most cities. Our inventory of accommodations we offer to visitors, particularly leisure visitors, is predominantly made up of short-term rentals.

“Any restrictions that adversely effect our short-term rental owners or anything that is going to deter a potential or current owners, we need to significantly look at,” Heath said. “We also need to keep in mind restrictions we have on hotels and make sure they and guest houses and bed and breakfasts are all on a level playing field.”

A number of the aldermen said they had received numerous calls from constituents, who are concerned primarily about a restriction in the ordinance that requires short-term rentals be located at least more than 500 feet apart.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall, who ran the meeting in the absence of the mayor and mayor pro-tem, said the restriction is 300 feet for bed and breakfasts, and she thinks it should be that for guest houses as well.

After discussion, aldermen approved a motion to ask Legaux to form a committee that would include Devin Heath of Visit Natchez, Mickey Howley, director of the Downtown Natchez Alliance, and other stakeholders to gather more input about the ordinance to refine it further before moving forward.