Editorial Roundup: Alabama

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Oct. 21

The Decatur Daily and The TimesDaily on outdoor trails and historic sites in Alabama:

With the new coronavirus taking its toll on leisure travel and many people stuck at home and starting to go stir crazy, it’s important to remember that taking care of one’s health means more than taking precautions against COVID-19. It also means looking after one’s mental health.

One of the easiest ways is simply to get outdoors. Fortunately, north Alabama has an abundance of walking and biking trails people can enjoy while still being alert for the coronavirus.

Decatur’s Dr. Bill Sims Bike Trail runs 14.7 miles from Point Mallard to Rhodes Ferry Park to Wilson Morgan Park, taking riders along some of Decatur’s most scenic and historic points.

In Athens, the Swan Creek Greenway Trail starts at the SportsPlex north of Athens High School, connects to the loop track at Athens Middle School, passes Swan Creek Park, and then joins up with Swan Creek to cut through the woods until it ends at U.S. 72.

Farther north in Elkmont, the Richard Martin Rails-to-Trail offers more than 10 miles of trail suitable for walking or horseback riding. Winding through rural woods and past farmland, this trail also includes the site of the Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

But one need not stick to official trails. Sometimes a walk though the neighborhood can reveal treasures hiding in plain sight.

The Alabama Historical Commission has recently gone live with an interactive map pinpointing thousands of historic buildings and sites throughout the state. You can find the map at https://ahc.alabama.gov/historicpreservationmap.aspx.

“The map is still a work in progress, but the agency said 42 of the state’s 67 counties have been plotted so far, and more than 40,000 points have been mapped into one layer,” according to The Associated Press. “About 130,000 documents have been scanned including survey forms, photographs, booklets, and maps.”

Decatur and Hartselle are two areas that are already well-represented on the map. Zoom in on Decatur, and you’ll see pinpoints lining every inch of the city’s historic districts. Click on one at random, and you’ll find homes like the J.W. Powell House at 720 Alma St. N.W. Click on a star, and you’ll see registered historic sites like the Wayman A.M.E. Church.

“As an easily accessible public record of Alabama historic resources, it also includes documentation of properties receiving state and federal tax credits, cemeteries, Native American sites and historic African-American schools,” said Alabama Historical Commission Chairman Eddie Griffith in a statement Monday. “This continuing effort will eventually expand to all of Alabama’s counties, and future documentation of historic resources will be added.”

Whether organized walking tours, seasonal “ghost tours” or simply going out on your own or with the family, with the Alabama Historical Commission’s map on your smartphone, there are plenty of ways to escape to the outdoors before winter sets in.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com/

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Oct. 14

The Dothan Eagle on motorists who fail to observe road signs in Alabama:

Some people would suggest that anyone who would throw caution to the wind and drive around a barrier or ignore a “road closed” sign deserves to encounter whatever hazard they were warned about. Houston County officials deserve credit for wondering if additional strategies might better protect motorists for their own poor decisions, and possibly mitigating the county government’s potential liability.

“We can only do so much,” County Engineer Barkley Kirkland told commissioners this week. “We do what we can, but when you have barricades up that say ‘Road Closed’ and dirt’s dumped there, people need to have a little sense.”

He’s right. And he’s far more diplomatic than many would be considering the scope of damage left in the wake of Hurricane Sally and the county Road and Bridge Department’s mammoth task of road repair.

We’ll remind motorists again: Several county roads are closed because flooding and erosion damaged the road beds. Don’t be fooled by appearances; county road workers are professionals, and a road they deem unsafe and close until repairs are made is a road drivers should avoid.

There are warning signs, barricades and even mounds of dirt blocking dangerously damaged roads. We urge drivers to heed the warnings and turn back; failing to do so risks vehicle damage, injury, or death.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com

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Oct. 11

The TimesDaily on lodging taxes for short-term rentals in Alabama:

Tourism Director Susann Hamlin wants to collect lodging taxes from the 36 Airbnbs located in Colbert County.

She is not alone in her belief that short-term rentals should pay lodging taxes. After all, it seems logical that an Airbnb should fall under the same rules as hotels, campgrounds and bed and breakfast lodgings.

“When they’re not held to the same standards as hotels, with regulations and taxes, it takes money away from cities and counties,” she said.

For example, Florence-Lauderdale Tourism officials reported the Airbnbs in Lauderdale County are generating about $15,000 in lodging taxes a year.

Hamlin pointed out the taxing of short-term rentals has been an ongoing issue across Alabama for years. “I’d like them to be more regulated than they are,” she said.

That’s a growing sentiment in cities all across the nation as more and more tax jurisdictions are making sure short-term rentals are paying lodging taxes, as well as passing rules that require hosts to register their properties, undergo safety and code inspections, and pay registration fees.

In May 2019, Florence raised concerns with 27 Airbnb owners whose properties were located in areas zoned for single-family dwellings.

“The problem is that R1 and R2 (ordinances) don’t really address the short-term rentals,” Mayor Steve Holt said at the time. “It’s got to be addressed.”

Following a series of meetings between Airbnb owners and city officials, it was agreed a special permitting process was needed for owners of short-term rental properties, plus a requirement that those owners must purchase a business license. Both would be renewable annually.

City officials also initiated an effort to collect data on short-term rentals, including information on neighborhood preservation.

City Council President Dick Jordan emphasized at the time that “balance is needed” to ensure the concerns of nearby neighbors (traffic, noise and influx of strangers) are factored into decisions to regulate Airbnb rentals.

Creating a level playing field is possible, and having Airbnb properties pay their share of lodging taxes is certainly one way to do that. But regulations should thread the needle between reasonable consumer protections and not making rules or fees so burdensome that home-sharing hosts are unable to make money.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com