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September 26, 2019

On September 11, the Zoning Commission held a special public hearing to receive input from residents once more before issuing a final ruling on short term rentals (primarily Air BnBs) of less than 7 days’ duration. The Commission had developed guidelines after several public hearings and other input from the public as well as the Town’s attorney.

The Commission defines short term rentals as being between one to six days. These types of rentals, according to Chair John Moran, generate all the rental complaints the Commission receives from residents.

Shorter term rentals such as those booked through online sites such as Airbnb have become the subject of controversy as neighbors have complained that weekend renters are the direct cause of increased congestion, noise and pollution in lake communities. There have been complaints that renters overfill houses and overload septic systems, choke narrow lake community streets with traffic, and play loud music and shoot off fireworks late at night.

After weighing all public feedback, input from Town departments including the Fire Marshal and the Health Department, and receiving the opinion of the Town’s attorney, the Commission has developed the following guidelines for short term rentals:

“Definitions;

“Short Term Rental-The leasing and/or use of a dwelling or residential site and/or structure or any portion thereof by a person or entity other than its fee title owner, for a term of six days or less.

“G) Short Term Rentals are allowed provided that the following requirements are met:

1) Issuance of Zoning Permit pursuant to section 8.5 based upon a site plan approved by the New Fairfield Zoning Commission in accordance of section 8.1.

2) The property owner must be in residence on the property or an abutting property.

3) Payment of a Zoning Permit which shall be $500.00 dollars every 24 months.

4) Property owner must have certificate of Insurance for the Proposed Use.

5) Occupancy limitation is 2 people per bedroom.”

Mr. Moran noted that if approved, the new regulations would go into effect on January 1.

Of the 20 or so residents attending the meeting, the majority were in favor of some sort of regulation of these types of rentals, while a handful were residents stated they would rather see town agencies handle issues.

Several members of public praised the Commission for the proposed changes, agreeing that the short-term rentals were the ones that were the issue. Those in favor of regulation spoke about the overcrowding of some of the rentals, noting that landlords need to do a better job of vetting renters. They pointed out that such overcrowding blocked roads and posed a safety hazard to children.

Those opposed to regulation suggested there might be alternatives that the Town could implement to address complaints rather than a regulation aimed at a specific segment. One individual noted that a noise ordinance would give him some recourse if any neighbor was having a loud party. He stated that without a noise ordinance or a blight ordinance, he currently had no recourse to a loud neighbor or one who did not keep their property in repair.

He took issue with the fact that if someone wanted to rent out their house, they could not do so without the Town regulating it. He said he saw no difference between that and having friends stay for the weekend.

Those in favor of regulation responded that the difference was that the landlord would be running a business. One resident noted that she was in a residential neighborhood, but that essentially, she “was surrounded by hotels.” others noted that with the frequency of short term renter turnover, they did not know who was in their neighborhood at any given time, which posed a potential safety concern for their children.

Zoning Vice-Chair Kevin Van Vlack noted that the Commission was trying to view the issue from all angles. He said the goal was to protect property owners while at the same time not totally cut off short term rentals to those who wanted to be able to open their homes for that purpose. He noted that some area towns had banned short term rentals across the board, something the Commission was opposed to in New Fairfield.

Some residents suggested putting the matter to a public vote, but Mr. Moran noted that zoning regulations were established by the Zoning Commission and not by vote. He did note, however, that there had been five public hearings on the matter going back to late last year, and that those comments as well as emails and letters from the public had been considered in the drafting of the proposed regulations.

At the end of the public comment, Mr. Moran outlined future steps, saying that the Commission would review its proposed regulation once more before voting on it at a future meeting. After that, he said, there would be a final public hearing.

The next regular Zoning Commission meeting is Wednesday, October 2 at 7:30pm.

By Greg Slomba