Brentwood uses taxpayer money to fight pro-Airbnb legislation

Brentwood uses taxpayer money to fight pro-Airbnb legislation

Brentwood officials are using thousands in taxpayer dollars to lobby against Airbnbs.

But one resident who likes the alternatives to hotels says the people running the city are using his hard-earned money against him.

Visitors use other people’s homes or properties as Airbnb short-term rentals in lieu of hotels, often at cheaper prices.

Brentwood banned Airbnbs in 2009.

Yet officials are paying $9,900 to Nashville-based Windrow Phillips Group to fight a proposal in the state legislature that would overturn city bans on the practice, said City Manager Kirk Bednar.

Kirk Bednar (photo courtesy of Brentwood's official website)

Kirk Bednar (photo courtesy of Brentwood’s official website)

Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, are sponsoring that bill, which the House Local Government Committee is scheduled to discuss Tuesday.

City Council member Anne Dunn, an Airbnb opponent, used her government email account last week to rally her constituents, asking them to contact their state representatives, a possible case of taxpayer-funded lobbying.

Dunn and Bednar told Tennessee Watchdog that Airbnbs haven’t caused any real problems in their city — but only because none are allowed.

Short-term rentals, Bednar, went on, “are not appropriate in residential neighborhoods.”

“We have had a couple of people who continue to list Airbnbs after we notify them of our regulations, and we did issue citations to municipal court. Those people were fined and their listings have since come down off the Airbnb website,” Bednar said.

RELATED — Nashville’s Airbnbs get taxed, but swank hotels get the benefits

“We had one listing that had arranged their home in a way that had beds for 19 people. The idea there is we are trying to stop this before it becomes a problem.”

But Lee Douglas, a Brentwood dentist who wants to open an Airbnb but can’t, says city officials are guilty of a big double standard.

Lee Douglas (photo courtesy of Lee Douglas)

Lee Douglas (photo courtesy of Lee Douglas)

The city code allows traditional bed and breakfasts while forbidding Airbnbs, something Planning and Codes Director Jeff Dobson confirmed in an email Friday.

“We only have one in town whose use was grandfathered when the property was annexed,” Dobson said.

A Google search shows Brentwood has at least one traditional bed and breakfast, named, appropriately enough, the Brentwood Bed and Breakfast, in what resembles a residential neighborhood. No phone number was given for that business, and it appears people interested in staying must make a reservation online.

“They are permitting one group to have those privileges while denying it to others,” said Douglas, adding that, contrary to what some people believe, Airbnbs won’t tarnish surrounding neighborhoods.

RELATED — Nashville’s incestuous relationship with ritzy hotels called into question

Many country music stars live in Brentwood, an upscale area 15 miles south of Nashville. Douglas said many people come to his city “to see where Dolly Parton lives.” Tourists are also more apt to spend the night in his city because it’s safer than Nashville, he said.

“I’ve stayed at Airbnbs. People who run them won’t allow their neighbors to be disturbed by ill care for the property or people parking junkers on the street. I would rent to a certain class of people who will reflect the values I have in what is an upper-class neighborhood.”

City officials respond

Brentwood spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said city officials hired the lobbyists in February.

“We secured lobbyists because this is an issue that our city feels strongly against,” Lambert said.

Deanna Lambert (photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

Deanna Lambert (photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

Tennessee Watchdog asked Bednar why city officials hired lobbyists, instead of going to the General Assembly.

“I can’t speak for the commission, but I don’t know that the people in the city government have the knowledge, the expertise, and the inside relationships to know what goes on in the legislature,” Bednar said.

“The lobbyists we hired are working for several other cities, so this allows us to leverage the input and influence from a number of other cities, and not just our own.”

RELATED — Claim: Racism possibly drives Nashville’s crackdown on Airbnb’s

No one at the Windrow Phillips Group returned a request for comment this week.

Dunn said she could have sent her lobbying email through a private account but sent it through her government address “in the interests of being open and transparent to the press.”

“We consider this a zoning issue,” Dunn said.

Anne Dunn (photo courtesy of Brentwood's official website)

Anne Dunn (photo courtesy of Brentwood’s official website)

“It’s like me opening my home in my neighborhood as a restaurant. If I’m in a residential district then I know when I move in that I’m not allowed to do that. Does that prevent me from competing with a restaurant in a commercial district? Yes — but too bad.”

Douglas said Dunn’s argument doesn’t hold up.

RELATED — Nashville Metro Council collaborates with hotels to curb Airbnb’s

“With a restaurant you have people who are coming and doing their business and, at most, will be present for an hour and that increases traffic flow and a negative affect around people there.

“With Airbnbs you have one set of individuals and one vehicle parked most of the time. If they are a tourist they are out most of the day.”

Sexton and Stevens did not return repeated requests for comment about their legislation. Patch.com reports the legislation allows local governments to impose regulations on Airbnbs regarding health, safety and permitting standards. The legislation also allows local governments to collect hotel and motel taxes and requires Airbnbs to comply with local noise, parking and pollution laws.

This is not the first time city officials have hired lobbyists.

As reported, Brentwood and Franklin combined their resources in 2013 to hire lobbyists over the legislature’s moratorium on all statewide annexations.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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