The operation of Airbnb and other similar short-term residential rentals are on track to being banned in Danville after the Town Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to give initial support to the proposed prohibition ordinance, drawing cheers from a large section of the meeting audience in favor of the ban.
Concerns addressed by the pro-ban citizen speakers, and later discussed by the council members, ranged from potential increases in local crime to property ownership control to perceived shortcomings in the rental vetting process to protecting Danville's small-town feel.
In the end, it was town zoning laws that seemed to weigh heaviest on the decision of the council majority, deeming the homes are essentially being used as rental businesses in areas zoned only for residential.
"This is not a knee-jerk reaction," Councilman Newell Arnerich said at the Town Meeting Hall. "This is not a government entity taking away your power from you ... We're voting to preserve our general plan of which we have all approved."
The ban ordinance is set to return to the council for final adoption March 1. Councilman Robert Storer cast the lone dissent vote, saying the proposal was based more on emotion than fact and urging the town to take more time to research the issue before voting on a total ban.
The decision to endorse a ban on short-term rentals -- defined as 30 consecutive days or less -- within town limits came following an hour-long public comments session and 30-minute council discussion.
Dozens of residents packed the meeting for the debate, with 15 citizen speakers telling the council they supported the ban while seven speakers opposed the proposal. Another 20 residents also registered their support of the ban but chose not to speak.
Danville's "quality of life" was a talking point for many speakers, in respect to the town's general plan and the town's character and history.
Many residents who spoke in favor of the ban said the reason for paying the high rent or mortgage rates associated with life in Danville is to enjoy the small-town, rural feel of the community.
"You've got a multi-billion dollar corporation that wants to expand itself and bring itself in to our neighborhoods," resident Scott Amarant told the council. "They cut against the grain of what our community is really about, which is home and heart."
Lara Forbes, a 13-year Danville resident, shared Amarant's sentiment, saying when people spend upward of $2 million on a home, they expect a certain "character and integrity in their neighborhood" that short-term rental operations don't provide.
Other speakers, who had positive experiences with Airbnb, disagreed.
"This is one way for me to stay in Danville," said Melinda Malin, a lifetime Danville resident and daughter of the town's first mayor, John May. "I think it's really important to know that we live in an economy, and an area, that I've always felt is very welcoming and very inclusive ... And we have had nothing but the most amazing experience with Airbnb."
Danville resident Jenner Balagot, who works as an Airbnb compliance officer, cautioned that the council has been forced to walk a fine line between preservation and isolation. He argued the best way to share the rich culture and history of Danville is to allow travelers and tourists into the residential neighborhoods, where they are granted interaction with those who reside there.
Balagot, who said he was speaking as a resident and not as an Airbnb representative, avoided addressing questions regarding vetting of renters -- an issue raised by some speakers concerned about a potential increase in crime brought by "transient visitors" into residential neighborhoods.
Danville City Attorney Rob Ewing said Danville police reported no parallel between short-term rentals and crime, but resident speakers like Eric Peterson said they were wary.
"I don't want to take the chance," Peterson said. "Maybe there is no correlation (between short-term rentals and crime) yet, but it's just a matter of time, in my opinion," Peterson said.
"I don't want to take the chance with my family, with my community," he added.
The fear for Peterson, along with several other speakers, was strangers with little to no personal investment in the town being introduced into tight-knit communities. The process by which renters are selected is suspect, they argued.
Pat Read, who rents her home in Danville through Airbnb, said that all renters go through a "five-level identification" authorization process. Jennifer Maloney, who also opposed the ban, stated that decisions on renters of homes in Danville should come down to the final "good sense" of the homeowners.
But pro-ban speakers argued that while a homeowner is entitled to their rights, purchasing a home in Danville is entering a contract committing to the tranquility of the neighborhood.
When the discussion turned to the council, Storer said he thought support of the ban was based on emotion, and not fact. He proposed taking no action on the matter until more statistical information can be gathered.
The council also heard an alternative idea to a total prohibition in which short-term rentals would be allowed under restrictions and overseen through funds collected in the form of fees and licensing costs administered to renters.
In the end, the council majority supported the ban proposal, voting to pass the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday night and advance it for final consideration on March. 1.
"I have mixed feelings, because I come from a real estate family," Mayor Karen Stepper said. "I think it's something that we might look at again down the road, if we come up with more information ... but I think it's appropriate to ban it at this time."