CLAYTON— Clayton city council members voted Monday to enact regulations on short-term rentals and hotels and motels in city limits in response to COVID-19, as well as clarify language in a motion passed last week that limited the number of people businesses can have in their establishment at a time.
“We left that language a little bit vague,” said Mayor Jordan Green about the previous motion that passed.
They also voted to sign a resolution to send to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp asking for state parks in the area to be closed during this time.
Effective 8 a.m. Wednesday, April 1, anyone with a license to operate short-term rentals has to have occupants stay a minimum of 30 days, unless the renters are considered essential personnel or for reasons related to the COVId-19 virus.
These regulations would be in effect until at least April 15, 2020.
Discussion on restrictions
Those operating short-term rentals only have a temporary license, as council members have not yet passed a final vote on the short-term rental ordinance.
“We were scheduled to have a secondary reading of the short-term rental ordinance,” said City Attorney Mitch Baker. However, this reading was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Currently, we do not allow for short-term rentals,” Baker said.
David Cross, council member, said that he was concerned about the operating procedures of hotels and motels.
“What are we doing as far as how they can still operate?” Cross said.
Council members decided for all hotels, inns, bed and breakfast's or other lodging places to screen occupants to make sure they are either essential employees, work in the area or are seeking a safe haven or refuge.
While discussing what restrictions to place on hotels and motels, Council Member Ara Joyce said there is an increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases due to the stay at home order.
She said hotels are often safe havens for victims and that the council should be careful and make sure “that we are giving them areas they can go if needed.”
The motion also clarified that businesses operating inside the city should limit the number of people in their establishments at any one time to one person per 100 square feet of floor space.
“This is not gross area. This is useable space,” Green said.
"Such space is not the gross square footage of the publicly accessible portion of the business, but rather only such portions of the business where customers may stand and move freely. (Shelves, check-out counters and other such fixtures do not count towards the amount of publicly open, useable space)," according to the resolution for the city of Clayton.
“Places you can stand in,” Baker added. Businesses would have to calculate how much storage and shelving space they have and subtract that from the square footage number.
Council Member Michelle Duquette said that this should also apply to the indoor flea market in Clayton.
There were questions from audience members watching the meeting via Facebook live as to whether hair and nail salons could stay open.
John Bozeman, planning and zoning director, said that some of the hair and nail salons have already closed voluntarily.
Baker said that it’s important for employees at these businesses to wear masks, gloves and other protective equipment and “because of close proximity at these types of businesses” it’s not possible to stay distanced six feet apart.
It was decided that these businesses could remain open as long as they practiced good hygiene and utilized protective equipment.
Bozeman asked about how to enforce these rules and what penalties would be applied if a business violates these regulations.
“They need to be aware of what the penalties could be,” Baker said.
Council members decided that the judge would rule on the penalties and impose the fine, but that the fine would be up to $1,000 per occurrence of the violation.
Limiting large gatherings
Joyce suggested to remove public seating from downtown and close some parking areas to deter people from congregating.
“We need to make it so it’s not easy (to gather),” Joyce said.
She said that the general public has a false misconception that COVID-19 is not here and that they need to understand that social distancing is important.
“It’s serious and we need to treat it like it is,” Joyce said. She said that it should not be treated like a vacation.
John Bradshaw said that his observation is that people are generally staying away from each other and that large groups congregating isn’t a big issue.
Cross said that something needs to be done to reiterate tourists not coming to Clayton.
He said he understands that tourism is important to our economy but that because of the older age of the full-time resident population, tourists should be deterred right now.
“We’re not doing this as a punishment,” Cross said. He said it’s for the “safety and wellbeing of full-time residents.”
He made the point that people with second homes didn’t stay in their primary home like they were supposed to, so how can we expect they will stay in place here?
“We’re not the only community who’s dealing with an influx of people,” Duquette said.
Green said that he believes the people in the lake community understand the concerns of the locals and are quarantining and policing themselves to stay in place.
“We want people to understand that it’s prudent to do what’s right,” Green said. He reiterated the importance of staying at home for the safety of the community.
“If you don’t need to leave your house, don’t,” Green said. He said that people should be taking this recommendation seriously.
Lt. Misty Houston clarified that when someone tests positive for COVID-19, the result shows for wherever their primary residence is.
Chief of Police Andy Strait said that Municipal Court has been postponed until a further date. He said they are sending out letters and hope to have the postpone date by the end of the week.
Mia Sharpton, accountant for the city of Clayton, discussed details of a policy for employees that would allow them to be paid if they were forced to be quarantined because of potential exposure to COVID-19.