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Do you want to shut down the Airbnb next door?

The country's principal short-term rental store, Airbnb, includes detailed interactive maps on its website, so you can pinpoint precisely where the rental properties are located, sometimes down to the exact block.

Indeed, in poking around the local Airbnb map, I discovered my neighbor has a unit in his house listed for rent. Judging by the many comments on his listing, he's a good host and his popular accommodation seems to get a lot of use.

Now I know why there are a few more unfamiliar cars on my dead-end street than I might have expected. But that's the only clue I've had that it is happening, not the kind of commercial intrusion in a residential neighborhood that Airbnb critics claim.

Still, I understand that every rental and its situation is different. And I believe those residents in the region who claim their quiet neighborhoods have been overwhelmed by short-term rentals, especially where the owner is not on the property or when paying visitors don't treat a place the way they would if they lived there.

There's a wide range of opinions out there on short-term rentals, and I suppose that's why officials in southeastern Connecticut towns generally have been slow to address what has become a thorny topic, with tempers on both sides.

There's a lot of money on the table. Rents for a single room in most parts of the region start at more than $100 a night and house rentals spiral up to hundreds of dollars a night, for ordinary accommodations.

It would seem Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to start addressing the issue more seriously. It's a debate that's been roaring around the country, in communities big and small.

The most aggressive stand I've seen around here is in the village of Noank, where the zoning commission flatly ruled last year that there is no provision in zoning regulations for commercial rentals in residential neighborhoods and therefore they are not allowed.

Indeed, when you float your cursor over Noank on the online Airbnb map, no rentals show up.  Noankers are good rule followers.

The south end of New London lights up like a Christmas tree on the map, with lots of short-term rentals.

Some of the sharpest criticism of Airbnb rentals in the region have been about loud house parties in Ledyard. We can all surmise whether that has anything to do with the town's proximity to the largest casino in the world. The town is tiptoeing into harsher enforcement, adding zoning rules that short-term rentals are allowed when the owner lives on the property.

Groton, after deliberating on the issue, punted, deciding only to require registration.

The problem is hanging over Stonington like a dark storm cloud, with those mad about a growing number of Airbnb listings in Mystic getting much louder.

There are some creative solutions being considered around the country, as communities look for compromises.

Some, like Ledyard, are requiring that the host live on the premises. Others are stopping rentals for periods shorter than a week.

A small city in Michigan this month enacted what seemed to be a reasonable fix: Regulate and tax them, requiring a special use permit that allows the community to consider each property and its unique characteristics separately. This process gives neighbors a voice when a permit application is filed.

Some arguments for Airbnbs in communities like Mystic, where the economy depends on tourism, is that they are easy economic development, bringing more visitors and their spending, even when hotels are full.

That, on the other hand, is the commercialization of residential neighborhoods that so many short-term rentals critics focus on.

In some shoreline beach communities, short-term rentals, especially Saturday-to-Saturday weeklong rentals, are a longstanding custom and tradition that have helped generations of owners of seasonal cottages keep up with the bills, renting the property when they are not using it.

The explosion of short-term, nightly rentals, more like a hotel than a vacation cottage, is new.

The growth of them is also a factor to be considered in the region's discussions about its affordable housing problems. Rooms, apartments and houses that are being rented to visitors are not available for locals to live in.

As we stand on the cusp of a what promises to be a busy summer short-term rental season, it is certainly a good time to sharpen the debate.

It would seem some robust public hearings are in order.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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