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    Sunday, June 16, 2024

    A beginning point on short-term rentals

    Search “Stonington, Connecticut” on the short-term vacation rental site Vrbo.com and more than 300 vacation home options pop up. On AirBnB.com, the number of rooms, cottages, condominiums and houses available for short-term rent in Stonington totals more than 1,000.

    This abundance of short-term rentals available in Stonington has caused misery for some and joy for others. While some residents complain that their previously quiet residential neighborhoods have been transformed by short-term properties used to host large and loud parties, others say the income brought in by renting out spare rooms or whole houses is the only thing that has enabled them to hold onto cherished family homesteads.

    The possible regulation of short-term rental units has been a hot topic for the past several years in many municipalities and Stonington is no exception. Stonington officials in 2017 began discussing the pros and cons of short-term rentals and the options available to regulate them. A March 13 referendum vote is now scheduled on a proposed ordinance that would require short-term rentals to be registered with the town, mandates owners or managers of short-term rental units be readily available to address problems caused by renters and requires owners to inform renters of local regulations governing trash removal, recycling and noise.

    During a recent town meeting at which the ordinance was a topic, residents continued to appear divided in many ways over the issue of short-term rentals and the ordinance itself. First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough remarked that it appeared no one who turned out liked the ordinance.

    That may be so, and such divisions could demonstrate the difficulty of finding an acceptable compromise on this issue.

    Still, we commend Stonington officials for taking a thoughtful approach to this topic - one that began with the Planning and Zoning Commission, then moved to four Community Conversations on the topic and ultimately resulted in a proposed ordinance that also was adjusted in response to community input.

    A proposal to mandate all short-term rentals be owner occupied, for example, was not included in the ordinance now going to referendum vote. That provision was not supported by many residents and we, too, agree that mandating owner occupancy is a regulatory step too far. Such a provision could hinder the ability of beach cottage owners who have seasonally rented their properties for decades to continue with that practice, for example.

    While other towns have taken that step to require owner occupancy and communities such as Noank took the more drastic measure of outright prohibiting short-term rentals, we think Stonington’s proposed ordinance represents a reasoned and reasonable first step aimed at addressing some of the most common complaints about these now wildly popular vacation lodging options.

    Requiring owners to more fully inform their guests of local regulations and protocols should help discourage those who rent with the sole intent of throwing boisterous parties. Requiring registration of the units will help the town keep tabs on them, and mandating property owners or their representatives stay close by and available should issues arise should help to more quickly solve problems with noise, parking, garbage disposal and other issues.

    The ordinance does not address concerns raised over the connection between a proliferation of short-term rentals and a rapid decline in affordability of local housing. While a lack of affordable housing is a major concern throughout the region, we believe there are other ways Stonington and other municipalities can effectively attack that issue. And the argument against short-term rentals on that basis seems somewhat disingenuous in Stonington, where affordable housing development proposals have often met with stiff opposition.

    We urge Stonington residents to make their voices heard by voting in the March 13 referendum. While we advocate for the ordinance’s passage, only a large voter turnout will result in a true mandate on the issue, whether in favor or opposed.

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