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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Luxury property in Waterford at center of short-term rental debate

    A screen grab of the Airbnb listing of the luxury home at 9 Waterview Drive in Waterford.

    Waterford — A 15,000-square-foot home on Waterview Drive was the central talking point during a public comment period on short-term rentals at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at Town Hall on Tuesday.

    Six of the seven residents who spoke expressed their frustration with the town response to their concerns about the property at 9 Waterview Drive, owned by businessman Shahriar Rahman of Woodside, N.Y. He purchased the home for $849,900 in April 2021, according to land records.

    The large number of guests is part of the problem, the residents said. Other complaints included excessive noise, cars parked within the cul-de-sac, cars speeding up and down the small road, tour buses that barely fit in the circular end of the roadway, trespassers onto other residents' docks and property, and safety concerns for the young children living there.

    With over 7,300 square foot in living space alone, the expansive home, listed on the website Airbnb.com, boasts five bedrooms, four full baths and three half baths, an indoor half-court basketball gym, as well as a jacuzzi and sauna. The additional square footage includes an indoor lap pool, outdoor pool and a spacious deck. The listing states it can accommodate 16 guests and rents for $2,500 per night, with a discount for weeklong stays.

    The home is situated on the smaller of two ponds in the Twin Lakes neighborhood in a section of town known as Waterford Village.

    Rahman said by phone Wednesday, "I bought it for my family to travel and kind of get away during COVID. We were in a lockdown, and I bought the house to surprise them."

    He said, "By God's grace, with my businesses still in place, I was able to make that happen," and he likes "knowing that anytime I need to get away, I have it there."

    Rahman, who referred to himself as an entrepreneur, said he owns businesses in the "tech and health care" industries and operates a nonprofit. He added that he travels abroad frequently, especially to Europe, where he is buying property. A public records search shows that in addition to the Waterview Drive property, he also owns four single- and multi-family properties in Norwich.

    He acknowledged that a movie was shot in the Waterford house.

    "For one day, there was a bunch of movie trucks and everything like that on the whole block," but he said there is ample parking in the driveway, and that was the only issue he was aware of.

    No guarantees from town

    The Planning and Zoning Commission was the fourth town panel to which residents aired concerns about short-term rentals; the others were the Representative Town Meeting, Board of Selectmen and Board of Police Commissioners.

    Planning & Zoning Chairman Gregory Massad said, "There's no guarantee we'll take this up as an issue, or that we can do anything about it, but we'd like to take the time to hear your concerns."

    Theodore Olynciw, an RTM member who lives on Twin Lakes Drive — which adjoins Waterview Drive — told the commission the RTM's Public Works, Planning and Development Standing Committee, of which he is a member, discussed the issue "in great detail" at its June 15 meeting, and is willing to work with Planning and Zoning to create new regulations or ordinances.

    "It's a one-family home. It's not anything else. It's not a motel, not a hotel. It's a single-family residence," Olynciw said, adding that he believes, due to the large number of guests renting the property, it falls under the town's hotel regulation, which would require a permit. He concluded by asking the commission to take action based on the lack of a permit, saying the property is not being operated as a single-family dwelling.

    Chuck Primus, also of Twin Lakes Drive, told the commission he believes it has the authority to regulate the property under current zoning regulations.

    "The house on Waterview Drive is a blatant disregard for this town's — for your— regulations that you are authorized and responsible for," he said. "Not to enforce that is a really interesting issue."

    No state legislation

    At the June 15 RTM standing committee meeting, Town Attorney Nicholas Kepple said there are an estimated 60 to 80 short-term rentals in Waterford and that, "in my view, even though we have zoning regulations, and even though we have a body of ordinances, there's no state legislation about short-term rentals, and I'm of the opinion that essentially there is nothing in Waterford that regulates it."

    Kepple said many of the residents' concerns are "actionable" under the current body of laws, and that arguably the town doesn't need new regulations. He cautioned that if the town were to create regulations, it would need to consider the people affected, including the owners of the rental properties and neighbors.

    Waterford Chief of Police Marc Balestracci said by phone Wednesday that the police department had received two noise complaints for the Waterview Drive property. He said when officers arrived for one of the complaints, the noise "couldn't be located; they didn't hear it." Of the other complaint, he said, "The police responded; they asked the people to turn it down and move inside, and they did, and that solved the issue."

    "Noise, trespassing, parking, speeding — it's all stuff we can deal with, with or without any kind of ordinance on Airbnbs," Balestracci said.

    Residents also spoke before the Board of Selectmen on May 3, resulting in a letter from First Selectman Robert Brule to Michael Rocchetti, RTM member and chairman of the RTM standing committee, and Massad, the Planning and Zoning Commission chairman.

    Brule wrote in the letter, dated May 31, that the concerns expressed "raise the general issue of whether and in what manner the Town should respond to this activity across our community."

    He requested that both town bodies use their public hearings to get community feedback "about this important but complicated topic which involves balancing property rights with neighbors' concerns."

    A vacation home

    In response to claims by neighbors that he has never lived at the Waterview Drive property, Rahman said he's stayed there "weeks on end," but clarified those weeks were not consecutive because it is a vacation home. He said his last stay in the home was in the spring, and that he recently hosted a graduation party for a friend’s daughter at the property. He noted it is often used by his family or employees, including some who telework, which may account for a lot of the perceived rental usage.

    He said his lawyers "double-checked" and determined there was no zoning regulations against renting the home. He said he made changes to limit any issues, including adding security cameras and a 6-foot privacy fence, and locking the gate that allows access to the adjacent pond and unfenced areas of the property to keep guests from accidentally entering neighbors' yards.

    Additionally, Rahman said he has increased the rental price of the property to lower the frequency of rentals.

    "I'll increase it further just to lower the occupancy. That's what I'm trying to do," he stated, but added he would "spend more money than whatever we ever earn on this property just to fight" against complaints by neighbors, which he says are false.

    The Planning and Zoning Commission has not said whether it will take action on this, but the RTM Public Works, Planning and Development Standing Committee will have its third meeting on the issue on July 13 at 7 p.m. in the Appleby Room at Town Hall.

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