Ledyard to take closer look at short-term rental policy

Ledyard — A handful of complaints and a reminder from the town’s land use office have launched a deeper conversation surrounding the topic of short-term rentals in town, and now the Planning and Zoning Commission is looking to examine the issue.

Last week, the town issued a news release reminding residents that renting out their homes as short-term rentals or vacation rentals is illegal and not allowed under  current zoning regulations. This came after the town zoning official Joseph Larkin had issued notices of violations to four property owners in the Lantern Hill/Long Pond area.

The notices requested that homeowners voluntarily come into compliance but did not immediately issue any fines. However, if homeowners do not voluntarily comply within 30 days of receiving the notice, a cease and desist order may be issued as well as possibly a municipal citation with fines up to $150 per day.

Currently there is nothing that explicitly allows the practice of homeowners renting out their homes on short-term basis in the town’s zoning regulations, meaning it is not legally allowed at this time. Or at least, that has been the way the regulations have been interpreted.

However, the policy is now getting a closer look.

The initial news release and the ensuing outcry on social media set off a string of events that culminated with a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting later in the week in which proponents and opponents of short-term rentals showed up in force to express their concerns.

Opponents of permitting short-term rentals in Ledyard — Airbnb, VRBO and other vacation rentals — expressed concern that not regulating the practice can be a safety concern as it poses challenges for septic systems as well as for emergency vehicles attempting to respond to calls on narrow streets when there are too many parked cars. Opponents also argued that bringing in large numbers of unruly visitors disrupts a neighborhood, and some people expressed concern about why the practice wouldn’t be regulated similar to that of a legitimate bed and breakfast or country inn.

In one letter sent to Larkin, a resident wrote, “The property owners (of these rental units) are destroying the peaceful enjoyment of our home and by operating illegally, do nothing to contribute to our ever-growing tax burden.”

Meanwhile proponents of permitting short-term rentals argued that the practice is economically beneficial for the homeowner themselves, as well as for the town because renters support local businesses. These residents, many of whom had used Airbnb to rent their homes or rooms in their homes, also argued that short-term rentals are not problematic if homeowners are conscientious and have set rules in place.

“I think the town should certainly keep an eye out for repeat offenders but one bad apple should not result in shutting down a vibrant economic opportunity in Ledyard,” wrote resident Jon Day in a letter he submitted to the commission. Day said in his letter that he and his fiancée have frequently used Airbnb to rent from other homeowners when they travel and have never had any issues.

The meeting culminated with the commission directing its staff to research the subject further in an effort to better clarify what current regulations allow and to consider future regulations or other methods of oversight. The Land Use Office will also begin to look at how other towns have handled the issue.

More than a year ago Stonington faced a similar situation and debate, and its Planning and Zoning Commission ultimately decided that short-term rentals were allowed because the town’s zoning code does not regulate them.

c.clark@theday.com

 

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