City officials hosting a public hearing to discuss the amendment of zoning ordinances gathered opinions, concerns and debates Wednesday evening.
The Tahlequah City Council listened to those who expressed their opinions on what they deemed to be preventative measures. Residents Connie Stacy and Nancy Dyson said protecting children were their prime concerns. They are opposed to a bed-and-breakfast, tourist court or tourist home within 300 feet of a school.
Stacy added that she would like to amend that number to 1,000 feet. The topic then turned to the law covering sex offenders, and since it prohibits an offender from living within 500 feet of a school or within 2,000 feet of a public park, Stacy reiterated her concern for children.
"We're not against a bed-and-breakfast at all; I'm just concerned about the children," said Stacy. "I know some of you are parents, and if you had a bed and breakfast that was going to house 20 people that was across the street from you or the school where your child was, there's no way to know who's going to stay in those facilities."
She pointed out there would be no way to know if a pedophile or a sex offender were staying in an AirBNB.
Craig Clifford told the board he was flabbergasted about the connection the two were making between a B&B and pedophiles.
"I just cannot comprehend the linkage, and I'd love to see some studies done that point out or correlate the presence of bed-and-breakfasts or AirBNB with any particular group of individuals," he said.
Stacy approached the podium and said there may not be studies at the time, since the B&B movement is "moving quickly and it's new." She argued that there was no way of knowing whether an individual renting or living in a B&B could endanger a child.
Steven Wright, who operates AirBNBs, clarified the process is for registering B&Bs. He said they take a potential occupant's name with a photo, an email address, phone number and credit card. AirBNB cross-tracks applicants' names and dates of birth with local registries, and if one comes up with a flag, that person is kicked out.
"I don't see the connection between pedophiles and AirBNBs. I would think that people of that nature would not want to register in a system and be tracked," he said.
He also brought up the point that no one "batted an eye" when it came to the hotels on East Downing being 750 feet within Greenwood and Cherokee elementaries.
"That's two-and-a-half blocks from an elementary school, and I don't see how that's acceptable if we're not going to let these be by the school, either," he said. "It's just frustrating. How do we know that the renters son, who is staying in the house for a week - how do you know he's not a pedophile? How do you know if your neighbor, who is already there, is not a pedophile? How do you know that nobody in this room is pedophile? We don't know."
Dyson then explained to the board, in her opinion, the difference between a motel and AirBNB in a residential area.
"It's very clear to me, it's the zoning, and people know motels are in commercial zoning, but to put a semi-smaller motel in a residential area, that's deceptive," said Dyson. "That's deceptive to children."
She argued that children feel safer in a neighborhood than they would if they went to a motel.
Wright said it seemed easier to admit some people just don't want bed-and-breakfasts in their neighborhood, and taking the pedophile route is "absurd."
Tom Barnard pointed out that the law governing pedophiles has already been written as far as the discussion regarding businesses. But Stacy persisted, saying the law doesn't cover those who are coming in from other states or who haven't been convicted of crimes yet.
"I don't know why we are just pulling out this pedophile or sex offender [issue]; that's not the only concern that we have. It's strangers, it's people that we don't know, having close access to our children. I know that he says they are tracked by a birth date, but if they were efficient for tracking people who have issues that can harm children, then we would have those kinds of systems in place, trying to prevent injury to our children," said Stacy.
Tahlequah City Planning and Development Director Clinton Johnson said the board is proposing that a tourist home in R-1, which is permanent, can turn a residence into an AirBNB.
A tourist home is defined as a dwelling occupied as a permanent residence by an owner or renter in which sleeping accommodations of not more than four rooms are provided or offered for transient guests for compensation.
A bed-and-breakfast is currently in an R-3 zone; the proposal is to move that to an R-2 zone, where "tourist court" is currently located. A tourist court is a dwelling other than a hotel/motel intended to be used as temporary sleeping facilities for no more than 20 people, and/or intended primarily to be used as a short-term or daily rental for compensation.
A bed-and-breakfast is a dwelling other than a hotel/motel where, for compensation, logging and breakfast are provided for no more than 20 people. A dwelling, which has accommodations for more than 20 people, is defined as a "hotel/motel."
No vote was taken at the public hearing, but possible action on the matter could be presented during the November Tahlequah City Council meeting.