Advocates Discuss Benefits And Challenges Of Airbnb

By Virginia Bridges The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

RALEIGH

Triangle residents filled the The Architect Bar and Social House in downtown Raleigh Monday night to continue the discussion on the benefits and challenges surrounding Airbnb, an internet service that connects travelers with people willing to rent out rooms in private residences.

Jeff Tippett, a local public relations consultant, organized the hour-and-a-half panel discussion Monday. Panelists included local entrepreneurs who use and support the service and said that Airbnb and related services are key for the Raleigh to compete against other tech-savvy cities in recruiting new companies and residents.

The goal of the meeting was to educate locals about the service, discuss concerns and for supporters and critics to ultimately work and move forward with a solution together, Tippett said.

A public debate on the Airbnb service surfaced in late November after Raleigh city officials received an anonymous complaint about property owner Gregg Stebben, who was renting a room to Airbnb travelers in his Five Points home.

The Raleigh City Council has notified Stebben that his rental is breaking city zoning rules. The city, however, has held off on issuing fines as elected and other officials discuss how to address zoning, safety and taxation issues of the so-called sharing economy.

During most of the meeting, Airbnb supporters touted the service's ability to provide an affordable and unique service that can introduce tourists to local businesses outside of the hotel-laden downtown district. Other advantages include residents raising additional income from the service that helps them to afford and acquire property.

While most of the crowd appeared to be Airbnb supporters, guests or hosts, a few speakers raised questions about the impact on local neighborhoods and businesses competing for tourists' dollars.

In response, Airbnb supports signaled they were willing to support some regulation in moving forward.

City Council members also attended the town hall meeting. Councilman Russ Stephenson likened the situation to the city's process to consider rules for food trucks.

"It's a new idea ... We have to think a little bit about how it fits in with other businesses and the public infrastructure and neighborhoods and so forth," he said.

The City Council's consideration of Airbnb and other "new, innovative choices" will take a similar path to that of the food trucks rules and the process starts with a community conversation, Stephenson said.

Stephenson said the City Council plans to hear a report in two weeks looking at best practices by cities that have taken actions to address the sharing economy services while respecting neighborhoods and other hospitality business.

The conversation is expected to continue at the Raleigh City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday as Justin Miller, a town hall meeting panelist, plans to report to elected leaders highlights of the Monday night discussion.

At the close the Monday night meeting, Tippett said the discussion helped take the the conversation from "an either or" to moving forward "and" addressing the issues and concerns.

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