Athens City Council convened for a special session Monday to continue the discussion on its role in the Baileys Trail system and how to regulate short-term rentals.
Councilman Patrick McGee, I-At Large, raised concerns about the city’s level of involvement. He said the funding for the project is a very specialized thing.
“This is going to get done whether the city approves it or not,” McGee said. “I am really concerned about this.”
Dawn McCarthy, the public affairs officer for Wayne National Forest, said the project would move forward without the city, but it would take many more years to come to completion.
“I think it would be much more effective if we all worked together to manage and maintain recreation rather than staying in our silos,” McCarthy said.
Athens can abandon the Baileys Trail contract at any time, Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, said. It would only be required to maintain the financial commitment through the end of that fiscal year.
Mayor Steve Patterson said the revenue generated by the Baileys Trail system would most likely peak during the summer months which is when the city struggles the most due to the absence most Ohio University students.
Patterson also said he has heard talk already coming from people in places like West Virginia who are excited about the potential of 88 miles of new trail arriving in the Athens area.
“I can only imagine that someone would want to stay longer to conquer all 88 miles,” Patterson said. “It would take me a month.”
Dan Twilley, senior lecturer of recreation and sport pedagogy at OU, spoke on behalf of Baileys Trail and the positive impact it could bring to Athens. He emphasized his belief that the demand for the project is there.
“Serious mountain bikers will travel up to six weekends a year to mountain bike,” Twilley said.
During the Planning and Development Committee meeting, Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, called attention to the issue of regulating short-term rentals in Athens.
Fahl acknowledged the “gray area” and “confusion” surrounding the current regulations. Many residents have raised concerns about the potential of having properties in R-1 zoning districts being designated as tourist homes.
Paige Alost, executive director of the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau, connected the rental debate to Baileys Trail and the anticipated influx of visitors who may not want to stay at a hotel, but rather an alternative option. The visitor’s bureau projects that roughly 20% of the visitors to the new trail system will stay overnight in the area.
“The most important reason that we are taking up this conversation is because of the mountain bike trail,” Alost said. “Visitors want a diverse range of prices and options… Tourism is a byproduct of good community development.”
Alost said there is no way to eliminate the party reputation that those rental properties can have but hotels and other commercial lodging businesses deal with the same issues.
“Going through the permitting process is not daunting, but will definitely weed out those who aren’t willing to meet certain regulations, keep their guests safe and keep the playing field level,” Alost said.