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City Council President Chris Knisely presides over the meeting in the Council Chambers in the city building on Nov. 23. 

Athens City Council holds public hearing on Airbnb, discusses stance on recent Syrian refugee crisis

City council members proposed issuing a statement on behalf of the city of Athens on the recent Syrian refugee crisis.

Abe Alassaf said he is shutting down his business after receiving a cease and desist order from the Athens Code Enforcement office, which stated he’d face a charge of $500 a day if he didn’t comply.

Alassaf is one of more than 40 Airbnb hosts in Athens, and spoke during a public hearing at Monday’s Athens City Council meeting regarding potential legislation that would redefine “bed-and-breakfast” in the city code, which could affect Airbnb in particular.

The Athens City Planning Commission recommended redefining “bed-and-breakfast” in the city code.

Commission member Nancy Bain said during an October council her main concern with Airbnb, a travel website and app that allows people to rent space to visitors, was the adequacy of safety precautions, such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, in Airbnb users’ homes, according to a previous Post report.

Alan Swank, an Athens resident for more than 30 years, said legislators can pass legislation on Airbnbs that would both promote tourism and protect citizens. He said visitors like to experience the local community authentically.

“I stay at hotels all the time and I’m greeted at the front door by a representative of a corporate entity,” Swank said. “When I stay in a BNB, I am greeted by the community.”

After the public hearing, council members discussed a potential ordinance regarding the current Syrian refugee crisis.

Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, who is drafting the ordinance, said the ordinance would show support for refugees.

“Athens has always been a very tolerant and accepting city,” Fahl said after the meeting. “We’ve taken leadership on a lot of different issues for the state in the past, including gender equality and marriage equality.”

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The meeting moved into a special session to vote on ordinances, passing five.

Council members unanimously passed ordinances issuing $100,000 toward purchasing a new fire truck and related equipment, authorizing the service-safety director to enter into an agreement for a bridge painting project on State Route 682 and issuing $550,000 toward paying part of the costs for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Council members also suspended the rules to vote on two ordinances up for first readings. One introduced by Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, regarding the amendment of the 2015 appropriation ordinance and another introduced by Councilman Steve Patterson, D-At Large, concerning the authorization of construction engineering services for the Depot Street Lift Station.




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