Jeff Syracuse

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Looking ahead to 2019, My Re-Election Announcement and Much More

Dear Friends –

While two months of 2019 are almost already past us, this is my first newsletter of the year and I hope everyone had a good Holiday Season with family and friends. While I did have some real quality time to enjoy with my friends and family and especially my son Joey, I have kept a full schedule in the community over the past couple of months.  Some highlights are included in their respective sections below.

Probably the most major event that happened over the last couple of months since my last newsletter is that our new library was solidified and work has already begun at Donelson Plaza (check out their new website!).  Most of 2019’s activity will consist of infrastructure, road work and sidewalks.  Our new library construction won’t likely start until the end of this year or early next year, but the great news is that we’ve achieved a huge milestone and the new library and revitalized Donelson Plaza will breathe new life into the heart of our community.

Check out this news clip from 1963 when the land was purchased for our current library.  Thanks to our Nashville Library Director Kent Oliver for sending this to me.

Donelson Library News Clip

Hard to believe that it’s 2019 and that means its election year for Metro Council and Mayor.  With all of last year’s special elections (and even one going on currently in District 29 to replace CM Karen Johnson who was elected our Property Assessor) this year will be the final term of some talented community leaders who are great people and with whom I’ve enjoyed serving.  For other districts, like here in District 15, those of us who were new in 2015 are running for re-election.  This has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life and I have grown both professionally and personally.  I have worked hard to keep neighborhoods strong and represented, small businesses supported, encouraged and facilitated new businesses to invest here and much more.  Please visit my website to read about the legislation I have passed and things I’ve accomplished this term.  I am humbly asking for your support to continue serving District 15 for a second and final term.  There has been a lot I have been very fortunate to accomplish but there is more to do.  To support my reelection financially or to volunteer, please visit the Get Involved section of my website.  As always, my sincere and humble thanks for the support and privilege of representing a wonderful community.

Jeff Syracuse Metro Council District 15

As part of what I’d like to make progress on over the next term is greater public and private support for the Music City Star to increase ridership and number of trips.  The recent purchase of the Nashville & Eastern Rail Corporation by R.J. Corman Company was good news as they offer more resources and a broad experience in the rail business to help us achieve our goals.  As a Board Member of the Nashville & Eastern Rail Authority, we finalized approval of this purchase recently and are looking forward to working with the new ownership.  No changes or investments will happen immediately, but I’m hopeful that this new ownership brings new energy and focus to continue the NERR’s success.  As I explained in my last newsletter, we are capped at 12 trips per day during the week with the Music City Star until we can invest in Positive Train Control.  However, that cap does not include the weekends as long as they are privately sponsored trips.  With that in mind, I’ve worked with our Regional Transit Authority to create the below marketing flyer and we will begin to more proactively work with the Nashville Chamber, Convention & Visitors Corporation and other organizations to showcase this opportunity when large events and conventions continue to come to Nashville.Music City Star Event Sponsorship

 

Music City Star Event Sponsorship

The RTA Board of Directors has given approval for an extension of last year’s Vets for the Holidays program so that military veterans can ride RTA commuter bus services and the Music City Star commuter train for free.  The program, which ran from November 1 to December 31, 2018, was a first for the RTA.  It aimed to make public transportation services more accessible to military veterans, both as a gesture of appreciation and in recognition of the fact that access to transportation services is a critical resource for returning and disabled veterans as they connect to medical, employment, and support services while reintegrating to civilian life.  To qualify, participants need only show a valid form of military veteran identification to the RTA bus operator or Music City Star train conductor.  Forms of identification that will be accepted are:

  • DD Form 2 (Retired United States Uniformed Services Identification Card)
  • Tennessee Driver’s License or Identification Card with "Veteran" designation on front
  • VA Health Benefits Identification Card
  • DD214 form in lieu of a Veteran's identification card

For more information on the Vets for the Holidays program, contact RTA Customer Care at 615-862-5950 from 6:30am to 6:30pm on weekdays, 8am to 5pm on Saturdays and 10:30am to 2:30pm on Sundays, or visit www.rtarelaxandride.org.

The Donelson Pike / I-40 interchange project may very well begin within the year, pending final logistic preparations by TDOT and the Metro Nashville Airport Authority.  It’s a complex project that will ultimately bring a dynamic interchange that is safer, more efficient and accommodates the rapid growth at the airport.  Below is a graphic and more information about this project.

Donelson Pike Relocation

 

Donelson Pike Relocation

Here’s something I received late last year that I thought I’d share.  Metro Water Services was pretty busy during FY18 with maintenance service requests in the district.  Our Metro Water Department does a great job. They are working hard on addressing all the many issues throughout the county associated with the incredible amount of rain we’ve had lately. I’m turning them in to them as folks send issues to me. I strongly encourage everyone to use Hub Nashville so that you have a record of the request. It’s the most efficient way to request service from a Metro Department.

Metro Water Services SW FY18

Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation announced today that two bridges on the main paved Shelby Bottoms Greenway Trail are closed. The bridge located at the 1.75 to 2.0 mile marker will close on February 19 and reopen at noon, Friday, February 22. The bridge located at the 2.0 to 2.5 mile marker is closed indefinitely. Damage from recent heavy rains is the cause of needed repairs to both bridges. Users are advised to find alternate routes.

Shelby Bottoms Bridge Closings

You’ve no doubt seen or read a bit about our debt situation in the news.  That on top of hearing about our budget shortfall last year that led to us not being able to fund promised cost of living adjustments to Metro employees is certainly continued disconcerting news.  Below is a report from our Finance Director with a report on our audited fiscal 2018 year-end status.  While our bond rating and revenues continue to be very strong, I believe there is consensus that we can’t sustain the level of debt spending that we’ve done over the past decade.  The efforts to rebound from the recession and flood have obviously been successful and I’m thankful now that what Mayor Briley has said is that this next budget will focus on the basics and ensure we keep a strong foundation of funding public safety and education while taking care of our Metro employees.  We have made strong investments over the past decade and revenues show that, we just now need to pay our debts accordingly and manage sustainable growth.

Finance Director

 

Finance Director

Finance Director

Pursuant to BL2018-1184, a “Blue Ribbon Commission” was established to to identify government inefficiencies, practices, transfer payments, third party payments and subsidies with the targeted goal of achieving budgetary cost savings of $20 million in annual savings. The goals of the Commission should further include identification of potential savings — from both the operating and capital budgets — including one-time and on-going savings.  Residents can submit their suggestions for savings.  To learn more about this commission and to submit your suggestion, visit this link.

Metro Arts' robust grants program distributes just over $2.4 million annually for operational and project-based funding for arts activities taking place in Metro Nashville-Davidson County.  Non-profit organizations interested in applying can find the FY20 Grants Guidelines on the Metro Arts website. Applications must be submitted using our online grants management system, WebGrants.  New applicants are encouraged to register for an account in WebGrants as soon as possible. 

Important FY20 Grants application dates:

  • January 23, 2019: FY20 online application available in WebGrants
  • January 31, 2019: New applicant training video available on Metro Arts' YouTube channel
  • March 20, 2019 4:30pm: Operating support application deadline
  • March 27, 2019 4:30pm: Project support application deadline

Eligible property tax owners over 65 may qualify for the Tax Relief program (income less than $29,270) and the Tax Freeze program (income less than $41,780). Totally disabled and Disabled Veterans also may qualify.  Our Metro Trustee staff members will be on hand at Fifty Forward Donelson Station on February 19th from 10am-noon to answer questions and help you sign up.  See flyer below for details.

Tax Relief Handout

 

Best,

Jeff Syracuse Metro Council District 15

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August 2nd Election, FY 18/19 Budget Challenges, Donelson TOD and Library Update, Floodway Buffer Legislation and Much More

Dear Friends –

Well, I must start this newsletter with an apology.  I try hard to send out a newsletter every 4-6 weeks or so.  My last one was sent April 30th.  It’s been an extraordinarily busy 2018 with some big challenges in Metro Government.  I was very happy to see David Briley win the special Mayoral election with enough support that meant we did not need a run-off election, which would’ve cost the tax payers an additional $1 million.  Very frustrating that we even needed to spend the $1 million.  Now that the Mayoral special election is behind us, we now turn our attention to a special election for Vice Mayor, which thankfully is being included in the normal August 2nd election. 

In a consistent manor that I supported David Briley because of his strong institutional knowledge and much needed stability he brings to the Mayor’s Office, I’m also supporting Sheri Weiner for Vice Mayor, who is currently already in the seat because Council elected her as our President Pro Tempore last year, who is there to serve as Acting Vice Mayor in situations like the one we are in now.  As a new Council Member, Sheri was always there to support and encourage me as I learned the intricacies and operations of Metro government.  She is a strong leader who asks the tough questions, gets to the bottom of challenging issues and knows how to take decisive action.  Get to know Sheri and join me in supporting her.

I’m also supporting Bill Beck for re-election as our District 51 State Representative.  Bill is all about people over politics.  The main residential portion of our 15th District for Metro Nashville that is in Bill’s State House District is the west side of Pennington Bend Road.  The rest of the 15th District is in Darren Jernigan’s House District 60.  Darren doesn’t have an opponent and I believe that is a reflection of the fantastic job he is doing representing us.  Let’s keep both of these good public servants in office.

Early voting will start July 13 for the August 2nd Election Day.  Below is the voting schedule for August 2nd.

Early Voting Schedule for August 2 2018

One of the biggest (and most frustrating) challenge we’ve been facing is with the FY18/19 budget.  These should be the good years with revenues flowing as we grow faster than most cities in the U.S. and third in job growth.  So, why are we experiencing a revenue shortfall?  We have roughly a $34 million revenue shortfall.  $26 million of that is due to the fact that property values have gone through the roof as evidenced by the every four-year appraisal we just went through.  There were many successful challenges to the appraisals that were decided by the Board of Equalization and most of the budget revenue associated with the successful appeals were from large commercial properties.  About $8 million of the revenue shortfall is because of decreasing enrollment in our schools, therefore reduced State funding.  I cannot in good conscious vote for a property tax increase, although that was one of the budget proposals before us.  There are no easy answers.  I am equally frustrated that the budget I supported is not able to fund the promised Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to Metro employees.  It’s not right, but that hard decision that I chose to make was to not fix these budget challenges on the backs of Davidson County property owners.  Generally what happens after a regular property appraisal and the rate drops to make the process revenue neutral (per State law), the Mayor and Council will raise the rate up a bit to take into account appeals and additional city expenses associated with growth, schools, new infrastructure, etc.  That did not happen last year.  Perhaps it should have.  We certainly have work to do in improving our budget forecasting processes.  Our budget challenges will not go away.  We have a few challenging years ahead of us I believe.

The Donelson Transit Oriented Development District was recommended for approval by the Planning Commission on June 28th. It is currently scheduled for third and final reading on July 17th, but it first has to go to the MDHA Board for approval of an amendment I put forth regarding the structure of the Design Review Committee that reviews development proposals. Currently, the DRC is managed by MDHA for the 12 current redevelopment districts downtown. My proposed amendment to the MDHA Plan would give our community a solid seat at the table with the DRC and make it function like any other Board or Commission with nomination by the Mayor and oversight by Council. I think this is fair and follows the spirit of the intent of the State authorizing legislation by State Rep Daren Jernigan and State Senator Steve Dickerson to make this more of a partnership between MDHA and the local community where the TOD is. They have written a letter to MDHA to that fact as well. I also have an amendment that differentiates non-owner and owner-occupied short term rentals. Non-owner short term rentals should appropriately be in the prohibited use. Owner-occupied would still be allowed. I’ve been taking the slow and steady approach to this legislation, especially because it’s the first of its kind. I believe that approach is paying off and tweaks and updates to it have improved it. If the MDHA Board approves my amendment, it may need to come back to Council for a public hearing, so I’m still figuring out what dates for future Council meetings that would be. I’ve been very patient with this and committed to getting it right. Additionally, as part of discussions, a MOU was signed between MDHA and Metro Planning to take time and further study the Design Review Process of all redevelopment districts in Nashville by hiring a consultant to review best practices across the U.S. Any further improvements to the process to help streamline red tape would then come back to Metro Council and the MDHA Board for approval.

Now that legislation for our new Donelson Branch Library has passed that detailed the purchase of a portion of Donelson Plaza where it will be constructed, the surrounding infrastructure and financing arrangement as part of the Plaza master plan with Holladay Properties, we’re ready to start the community engagement process to discuss the new library, its design, programming, etc.  I posted on Facebook to begin to solicit community members who are passionate about the library and want to be at the forefront of community engagement.  I received great response.  If you’re interested, please let me know.  There will community wide meetings towards the end of September.  Stay tuned for more info.

Over the past couple of years, increased interest in developing along the Cumberland River in the Pennington Bend area has resulted in variance requests at the Board of Zoning Appeals and Stormwater Committee to build larger.  Variances are required because there are two buffers next to the floodway – Zone 1 (50 feet from the floodway) and Zone 2 (75 feet from the floodway).  Zone 1 is designated as a “Do Not Disturb” area but the Metro Code allows variances to be decided by the Stormwater Committee.  In my opinion, this is a dangerous and irresponsible practice to try and secure a variance in an area that is directly next to the floodway and designated a “Do Not Disturb” zone.  As your Councilman, it’s my job to look at how our policies and laws impact our community 10-20 years out or more.  If we allow variances and rebuild to the level of density we had pre-May 2010 flood, we will be enabling the level of destruction we saw.  That flood also resulted in large amounts of shoreline to be destroyed, reducing the level of developable property.  This is an inherent risk of owning riverfront property.  Therefore, I have legislation that will make the 50-foot buffer permanent without option to receive a variance to build in the “No Disturb Zone”.  Here’s an article in the Tennessean about this.  Below is a map that illustrates the floodway, buffers and more.  You can access this information from Metro Property Maps.  Turn on the Stromwater filter and you’ll need to adjust the opacity to better see the buffers.

Cumberland River Floodway Map

Thanks to everyone who participated the Lebanon Pike Study, focusing on future growth and preservation along Lebanon Pike from Spence Lane to Briley Parkway.  As “Downtown Donelson” begins to grow, it’s very important for the transitional area between downtown and Donelson to be well planned and guide proper growth and development.  All information is at the link above.  It passed the Planning Commission on June 28th.

I’m pleased that we will finally be cutting the ribbon on the McGavock Pike Boat Ramp at the end of McGavock Pike where it intersects with Pennington Bend Road.  It will be on Saturday, July 28th at 10am.  Mayor Briley, Vice Mayor Weiner and other community leaders will join us to cut the ribbon and open the boat dock to the public to start using if to launch non-motorized boats on the Cumberland River.

Metro is putting together a Davidson County Long Term Solid Waste Master Plan and is looking for feedback.  Please review all information here and there are survey links on the website.  This is an important aspect of ensuring we manage our growth sustainably.

I have been gathering facts and discussing what we all recently learned about as it relates to emergency medical services operations at three Nashville Fire Department stations in Davidson County.  I have discussed this with Mayor Briley, Chief Will Swann, IAFF Nashville Local 140 President Mark Young and stopped by Station 28 to sit and listen to the perspective of those serving there as well.

First, I want to address one thing that started this and prompted the media to do a story.  This began because of one member from NFD Station 28 violating NFD social media policy by posting on Hip Donelson and venting from his personal Facebook page about NFD operational decisions.  His action was inappropriate.  I heard from a lot of my neighbors immediately after that post very confused and fearful.  I refuse to react emotionally or come to a quick judgment about any issue with which I don’t have all the facts and perspectives.  Here are the facts I’ve learned from NFD:

  1. 1. Our NFD is not phasing out personnel. They are reallocating the Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel to the outlying parts of the county where there is a greater need for ALS appratus because of distance.
  1. 2. The program of putting Paramedics on engines was instituted years ago because there was not as many ambulances in service. It was 19 at the time and now we have 28 medic units. The increase of medic units decreases the need for ALS Engines in the urban area.
  1. 3. All fire companies have EMTs and Advanced EMTs. Every Nashville fire fighter is an EMT or Advanced EMT and they are capable of treating patients with quality care.
  1. 4. Engine 28’s ALS unit will not transition to a Basic Life Support (BLS) unit in the near future. They will reassign the firefighter-paramedics to remaining ALS Engines through attrition. No one is being phased out or let go during this process.
  1. 5. Response times will not be impacted by this transition because fire fighters will continue to respond to medical calls.
  1. 6. This was a decision made several months ago and was not a function of the current budget. This was a plan that would have been implemented regardless of the budget passed recently by Metro Council.

I appreciate the input and guidance from Mark Young, President of IAFF Local 140 on this issue.  I agree we never want to see any reduction of service at any station or negative impact to NFD personnel pay rates.  Operational decisions should never compromise the level of care we receive and I will continue to support our NFD leadership who are confident this is not happening.  I do empathize and have concerns about how this potentially impacts pay rates for certain NFD personnel and stability of being able to stay at the fire hall and community they love to serve.  Leading a large county-wide Fire Department is certainly not an easy task and hard decisions have to be made, especially with the growth we are experiencing.  That should also mean our budgets need to reflect a consistent top priority to public safety and I will continue to advocate strongly for that.

Nashville MTA is now WeGo Public Transit.  The new image is part of a process that started with the adoption of the nMotion plan in 2016, and included extensive interviews and focus group testing of current riders, prospective riders, residents, business, and community leaders in Nashville, all of whom are affected by the ever-growing mobility concerns in a rapidly growing city.  It is just one part of their continuing efforts to improve public transit in Nashville as laid out in the nMotion plan, which includes a number of service enhancements as well as improvements to the customer experience.  Here’s an image of a new bus.

We Go Transit in Nashville TN

Best,

Councilman Jeff Syracuse

 

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Our Donelson Library is Finally Moving Forward, an Update on the Donelson Transit Oriented Development District and a Day of Trewth to Honor Frank

Dear Friends –

It’s been a long time coming…  When I was first elected, I became aware that Donelson was at the top of the list as part of the strategic plan for our library system that identified the needs as far as facilities and services throughout the county.  Our Donelson Library was celebrating a bittersweet 50th Anniversary at the time, knowing that its 5,500 square feet built in 1965 had become insufficient for proper 21st century library services, which have grown far beyond just about being about books.  21st century libraries are community centers with modern technology and places to access multi-media elements such as music, movies and the internet.  As discussions began about a new library, so were discussions of how to implement our Urban Design Overlay, which envisioned a walkable, mixed-used, transit-oriented future.  It occurred to me that if we are to reimagine the heart of Donelson as a walkable town center, what the vision truly needed was a civic anchor at the heart of it.  Also during that time going back a couple years prior when I was President of the Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce I began a focus of trying to find a new owner for Donelson Plaza.  Holladay Properties stepped up in a big way and embraced the vision for the heart of Donelson and also agreed to begin working with Metro towards the possibility of incorporating our new Donelson Library as part of their plans for the Plaza’s future, which is also an aging property that is a prime opportunity for bringing the vision of the community to fruition.  Since we don’t have a town square per say, centrally locating the new library was important as an anchor.  The former Castner Knott / Ace Hardware location of the Plaza seemed perfectly situated.  As these discussions continued, the JB Estille Road sidewalk project became an important aspect to implement as a boulevard-style pedestrian-friendly street that would ultimately connect the new Library with Donelson Station (which is another project that has been moving forward that will be discussed in more detail in the months ahead with community engagement as it takes shape).

My heartfelt thanks to Holladay Properties and the many Metro Offices and Departments (Mayor’s Office, Library, Finance, Legal, General Services, Water, Public Works, Planning, and Arts) that worked together towards creating a very special opportunity for Donelson to build us a new beautiful 25,000+ square foot library.  It was a complex project that took some time to engineer and cost out all the various infrastructure elements and including how to structure the financing arrangement.  As you know, we have been going through meetings regarding our potential Transit Oriented Development District.  One costly element of this project was the entire related infrastructure around the library to include a relocated Cliffdale Road connection, sidewalks, shared parking, storm water and other relocated upgraded NES, Piedmont Gas, AT&T and Comcast utilities.  One element of the TOD District is the availability of Tax Increment Financing, which allows a developer to invest more into the project in lieu of deferred property taxes that will be higher as a result of what the new development will generate.  The TIF financing availability is there to incentive infrastructure, economic development and affordable and workforce housing.  The expense of the infrastructure around library was a perfect first opportunity to utilize the TIF availability and rejuvenate the heart of Donelson.

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Transit Plan, Short Term Rentals, Major League Soccer, Recommend Infrastructure for Pennington Bend and the Full Story on the Dancing Lights of Christmas

Dear Friends –

Mayor Barry announced the comprehensive transit plan and proposal for what taxes would support it to Council Members on Tuesday, October 17th and was in conjunction with the Tennessee Public Transportation Association annual conference at Music City Center. The proposal will not include any property tax increase. The passage of the IMPROVE Act earlier this year by the State Legislature, in addition to funding road and bridge projects across the state, authorized local government to collect surcharges on various taxes and fees currently being assessed by the local government, if approved by voters by referendum. Metro will seek federal grants where available, while also proposing four surcharges to fund the project implementation and long-term maintenance of the system.

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Honoring Frank Trew, Important Community Meetings and Presenting a Vision for Our Stones River Regional Park

Dear Friends –

Our hearts have been heavy since the news of Frank Trew’s passing.  He was a close, personal friend of mine.  There was no one I worked more closely with on behalf of Donelson’s neighborhoods than Frank.  There was a shared passion of organizing neighborhoods and helping form Neighborhood Watch groups, supporting and celebrating local businesses and serving and taking care of our neighbors.  We talked a lot about Donelson’s future.  Hip Donelson has been that organization to bring the community together in great ways to support the community now and advocate for what we want to be in the future.  Frank’s leadership of Hip Donelson is a major reason you see “hip” pages on Facebook all around Middle Tennessee now.  Hip Donelson’s success of being that “virtual front porch” for neighbors to engage with each other has become a model many want to follow.  I encourage everyone to focus on Frank’s great example of service and follow his lead.  Our neighborhoods, schools, non-profits and civic organizations need each of us to be involved, serve one another and continue to keep us a strong community.

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Cavalia comes to Pennington Bend, Historic Overlay and Community Meeting for Belair Mansion and More Development Updates

Dear Friends –

Thanks to those who live in and around Pennington Bend who came to the community meeting about Cavalia, the equestrian theatrical show coming to Ryman Hospitality’s land just east of Briley Parkway.  Please visit the website at the link above for more information.  Below are some of the slides that were presented at the meeting.  Also of note is that as a token of good will, the management team of Cavalia is offering an opportunity for directly adjacent neighbors to see the show for free since they are the most impacted by this show.  If you attended the meeting and signed the Sign In Sheet, you should be contacted.  If you weren’t able to attend the meeting, please email info@cavalia.net and provide them your address to verify your residence.  Please do not abuse this kind gesture.

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Recapping the FY17/18 Budget Season, Legislative Updates and More New Developments in Donelson

Dear Friends –

My apologies for the delay getting this next newsletter out to everyone.  Both my day job at BMI and Metro are both on a July 1 fiscal year, so there’s been a lot of activity in my professional world over the past couple months.  Metro’s budget season for 2017/18 was in of itself an extraordinarily busy time for Council as we worked with the administration to help guide a strategic direction and prioritize investments with a $2.2 billion budget.  The Capital Improvement Budget is where projects are first identified and serve as a “wish list” and then prioritized for funding in the Capital Spending Plan.  The Operating Budget was also thoroughly discussed and one major challenge continues to be Nashville General Hospital, which has struggled in recent years to operate within their budget and have consistently come back to Council in the middle of the year to request an additional appropriation.  They have made improvements over the past couple of years and of course health care is a major issue at the national level so there are certainly broader issues but the bottom line is we must ensure our continued investment produces sustainable results. 

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Short Term Rental Bill Deferred, Stones River Bend Park Community Kick-Off and More New Restaurants Coming

Dear Friends –

The Business News section has the most updates this newsletter, but important information is in each section.  As always, don’t hesitate to let me know about things happening in the community to include in subsequent editions.

One of the hottest topics at Council right now is Short Term Rental’s and BL2017-608 is the latest bill to restrict non-owner occupied STRP’s.  The Council Meeting on Tuesday, May 2 was the public hearing for 608 and we were there until about 12:30am hearing passionate opinions from both sides of the issue.  We deferred the bill to wait for possible State action that could limit what we can and can’t do and based on that, there may be potential subsequent amendments to 608, so stay tuned.  I certainly see both sides, but lean towards protecting the character and integrity of neighborhoods.  This whole process has been messy to say the least. 

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