Groton – After more than two years of deliberating on two proposed ordinances to regulate short-term rentals, the Noank Zoning Commission has decided to order the Zoning Enforcement Officer to enforce the current ban on rentals such as those through Airbnb and Vrbo.
President Rick Smith noted that any use not explicitly permitted in zoning bylaws is prohibited, but the ban has not been enforced.
âWe have painstakingly turned every stone and explored every possible way to do it for over two years, and we have come to the conclusion that it is not in Noank’s best interest to change our rules to let the rental in the short term happen, âsays Smith.
In a meeting on August 26, the committee voted 5-0 to leave Noank’s zoning ordinance as is, meaning short-term rentals remain unauthorized use, then 5-0 to put end of the postponement of the application.
âThe way we’ve been working on this for the last two and a half years is to design something for this group, but that’s not really how we’re supposed to regulate,â said member Beth Steele. âWe’re not supposed to regulate for a target audience; we are supposed to regulate for the village as a whole. “
Smith initially insisted on allowing the hosted rental, which means the landlord lives in the property during the rental. He called it “functionally a residential use of a residential property”, whereas non-leasing involves “running an unattended hotel on your private residential property.”
Steele said that both hosted and non-hosted rentals are commercial use, and commissioner Nip Tanner said taking the route Smith suggested “would turn into a box of worms.”
Smith ultimately voted with the group, “partly because I was persuaded and partly because I like unanimous votes on very controversial topics.”
How will this be applied?
The day after the meeting, Smith informed the committee’s mailing list of the two votes and said, âIt is expected that this enforcement effort will be phased in, using methods available by law for officers to zoning enforcement enforces the ordinances of a municipality.
Some residents were confused by what “phased in” meant.
Smith told The Day on Friday that it would be up to ZEO and the attorney, Bill Mulholland and John Casey, respectively, to determine the execution process. Asked about his advice for short-term rental operators in the meantime, he said if it was him, he wouldn’t take more bookings.
But he said that “the application will not be instantaneous. It will be a process that gives people the right to communicate it to them.” He did not have a timetable to start the execution.
Mulholland, who also serves as the zoning officer at East Lyme, said a list of STR operators would be developed and they would be notified of the cessation of operations. He said there will be an opinion on penalties for non-compliance.
âIt’s kind of a work in progress right now,â Mulholland said, adding that he had to sit down with Casey and Smith.
While the commission has now abandoned a 2019 draft order and a 2021 draft order regulating short-term rentals, Smith does not think the past two years have been a waste of time, or that the committee would have could come to a conclusion in six months or a year.
âWe will be criticized by people unhappy with the decision,â said Smith, âbut we cannot be criticized for the lack of effort and lack of conscience in trying to find a way forward that could satisfy all parties. . In fact, we couldn’t find that, and that’s a shame. “
Wayne Burdick said he was disappointed with the decision but changed his VRBO roster to be a 30 night minimum.
âWhether it’s someone for a week or four weeks, it’s still going to be the same kind of families that show up, but we will obey the law,â Burdick said.
The proposed regulation had defined a short-term rental as being less than 30 days. When asked on Friday if Noank residents could rent their property for 30 days or more to the same party, Mulholland said this was “under discussion with Legal Services.”
Burdick, who lives in South Carolina and said he spends about half of the summer in Noank, said short-term rentals help cover more than $ 40,000 a year in taxes, insurance and housekeeping. the house, which has been in the family for five generations. .
Another short-term rental operator, Amy Kirschner, feels that the commission rejected the work she had done for two years to try to compromise and instead said, “You can’t do that”, in a way that leaves total ambiguity. “
Kirschner called the commission’s action “a way to come to court with me to manage this process,” but declined to say whether it would pursue legal action.
The commission “chooses one thing that is not regulated and says it is illegal. What else that is not in the regulations is illegal?” Kirschner asked. She asked if it would be illegal to set up a reindeer at Christmas, a Hannukah menorah, or a religious totem pole. In response, Smith said he would let the committee vote speak for itself, and that trying to speculate is “just running down a rabbit hole.”
Ben Greenfield, who stressed that he wanted to be a good neighbor, said he would now market the unit he had on Airbnb as a long-term rental, as he did before. He said making short-term rentals had helped him a lot during the pandemic, and he called the new approach draconian.
Greenfield hopes the commission will come up with something “a little fairer for everyone” in the future.
Residents of Noank and landowners were divided in a public consultation meeting in July, so some are happy with the commission’s decision. Smith was a candidate for re-election to the Zoning Commission in May and won 108-89 over Gabi Smillie, a short-term rental operator who decided to cast her name a few weeks earlier.
Short-term tenancy is “corrosive to communities, and it shouldn’t exist, and God bless our zoning commission,” said Elisabeth Pendery. “They are so brave and they made the right decision, not casually, but after two and a half years, with due diligence and careful consideration.”
She said the commission decided to do the most good for the most people, noting that there could be around 30 STR operators out of hundreds of homes in Noank. She said that “communities need neighbors” and that she could easily have put her second unit on Airbnb and made four times as much money, but instead would have someone there in the long run.
Both Pendery and Mary Cuthbert have expressed concern that short-term rentals are depleting the availability of long-term rentals and that children don’t have other children to play with.
Cuthbert said Friday, “I don’t believe short-term rentals belong to a residential community,” saying people need to be in hotels when they visit communities.