Changes are looming for short-term rentals

This photo is from an Airbnb post online Tuesday that advertises a townhouse “with a huge deck” overlooking the West Passage. This ‘clean and spacious beachfront apartment’ is a five-minute walk from the village, and although the post does appeal to military families, short-term rates are also available.

A proposed order that will allow dogs to roam freely in seven municipality-owned recreational properties has been ordered for a public hearing, but a draft to govern short-term rentals has been tabled for further discussion.

City council considered whether the proposed ordinances were ready for release in a four-hour marathon meeting Monday night. With little discussion, councilors unanimously forwarded the amended leash law to its next step in the process. Big changes, however, have been suggested for the rental ordinance.

Mary Meagher, vice-chair of the board, recommends a change that would increase the registration fee by 471% for short-term rental owners who are not qualified voters of Jamestown. These owners would also be prohibited from renting their properties for less than six days. There are approximately 125 to 175 short-term rentals in Jamestown, according to a study by Host Compliance.

According to Meagher, the increase from $ 350 to $ 2,000 is not unprecedented for a policy that distinguishes between residents and visitors. A season pass to Fort Getty, for example, costs $ 15 for residents, $ 120 for non-residents. The $ 350 fee was the original planning commission recommendation.

“We have slipped down a slippery slope ignoring this situation,” she said, “and it has now accelerated into increasingly shorter rentals, via increasingly anonymous means.”

The town planning commission was tasked in January 2020 with drafting an ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals, and the board of directors presented its proposal to the city council in July after 16 months of work. Mike Swistak, chairman of the town planning council, said the commissioners “are very light on the rights that we have taken away from the owner.”

According to an email to Meagher from Swistak, planners set five goals when reviewing the ordinance. This email was sent on Sunday after Meagher informed Swistak of the impending changes.

“I believe that owners have the right to rent without restriction on the number of days as long as they follow the rules and do not disturb or disturb their neighbors,” he wrote.

Swistak also said there should be a registry so the public can know where these properties are located and who is responsible for them. The ordinance should also “improve the ability of the police and the zoning enforcement officer to respond to violations,” and these officials should be able to “penalize chronic violators and have the ability to stop rentals. short term “.

Meagher, however, said she had “significantly different views” from Swistak’s.

“I completely agree with these goals, but I do not agree with his original premise that owners have the right to rent without restriction on the number of days. “

According to Meagher, his concern is “the total transformation of our understanding of the distinctions between residential and commercial uses and neighborhoods.” She said this transformation is profound with the potential to be widespread and is “antithetical to the principles of residential zoning.”

The current zoning ordinance says all unlisted uses are banned, and because short-term rentals are not listed in the document, it can be interpreted as a banned use, according to Peter Ruggiero, the town’s attorney. Although Meagher called the regulation “draconian,” she believes the distinction between owner-occupied rental units and investor properties can “improve or moderate this transformation.”

“It’s about the creation of commercial properties in residential areas,” she said. “I think this needs to stop, and if it does, the other elements of this situation, noise and nuisance, will be less likely to occur.”

Whether or not to incorporate these changes into the project was delegated to a subcommittee made up of Meagher, Ruggiero, city councilor Erik Brine and town planner Lisa Bryer. City Councilor Randy White urged the subcommittee “to stay on this path” to discourage investor properties as it “robs us of neighbors.” He even suggested an amount over $ 2,000.

“It’s destructive to the fabric of our community,” White said.

The reason for the proposed ordinance, according to the draft, is that “short-term rentals in residential areas have been the source of noise, congestion, disruption and disorderly tenant behavior.”

He continues: “The short-term rentals have disturbed the tranquility of the neighborhoods in which they took place. They disrupted the rest, comfort and quiet enjoyment of people in their homes, and they disrupted the continuity of the neighborhood and the social factor of the small town.

These short-term operations are defined as the rental of a property for less than 30 days. The original ordinance drafted by the town planning commission fixed the maximum occupancy at two people per room, plus two additional people. Children under 12 are not taken into account in this limit. A modified draft, however, eliminates “two more people” from the language.

Regarding parking, the total number of spaces required in the original project “must be greater than the number of rooms used” and an off-street parking space “must be provided on the same lot on which the short-term rental is located for each room, plus an additional parking space. When this required number of off-street parking cannot be achieved, “a maximum of two legal on-street parking spaces along the frontage of the lot may be used”.

The amended ordinance, however, removes the clause allowing on-street parking. The project would also require inspections by the building official and the fire marshal following this entry in the register. Inspections by the building manager and the fire marshal would be required on a triennial and biennial basis, respectively, following the initial assessments.

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