Chester board hears pros and cons of short-term rentals, ordinance Will look at ordinance again after lawyer's review

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Last Wednesday’s Chester Select Board review of a proposed ordinance that would require the registration of short-term rentals – like those marketed online by Airbnb and VRBO – brought out those in favor of regulation and those defending their income stream, as well as an emotional appeal from one board member.

Planning Commission member Tim Roper introduces the ordinance

Planning Commission member Tim Roper introduces the ordinance. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Speaking for the Chester Planning Commission, which wrote the document under review by the Select Board, member Tim Roper said the commission is focusing on housing and looking a number of issues that contribute to the housing shortage including short-term rentals. He noted that since Covid, the real estate market has changed and it seems that houses are being purchased with the intent of making them short-term rentals, which takes them out of the housing stock.

It is a subject that The Chester Telegraph explored in-depth last week:

Planning Commission member Tim Roper introduces the ordinance

Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow walks the board through the four page ordinance.

“Talking about short-term rentals one thing became clear immediately, that we didn’t have very good data,” said Roper, noting that commission chair Hugh Quinn and Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow had met with a company that monitors such rentals and works on host compliance. That company found there were 81 such rentals in Chester, a figure backed up by data that The Telegraph reported. That represented a doubling since the onset of Covid and represents 8 percent of the total number of houses in the town.

Roper said that registering such rentals would provide the data, and they tried to be as fair as possible by splitting those into two categories: hosted and unhosted. 

Before turning the presentation over to Bristow, who wrote the ordinance, Roper said that the town needs the data on what is being rented and to how many guests at a time. He noted that registration would give the town information that it would want to make sure the rentals are operated safely. Roper also said that the ordinance was a minimal move.

Second homeowner Russell Fearing felt his Stone Village house was somewhere between 'hosted' and 'unhosted'

Second homeowner Russell Fearing believes his Stone Village house was somewhere between ‘hosted’ and ‘unhosted.’

Bristow told the meeting that the Town of Killington has about 700 short-term rentals and that when he worked there he was responsible for rolling out the ordinance that regulated them. He said he had seen a lot of problems with those rentals but has not here in Chester. But Bristow said he did not come to Chester to push an ordinance and that the impetus has come from the public’s comments to him and to Planning Commission members.

With that, Bristow and the board read through the ordinance.  Bristow pointed to the definition of a short-term rental in the ordinance and noted that this is the definition that is used in statute including the law that authorizes towns to regulate them. He also said that the commission had adopted the definition of hosted as a rental that is in a part of a property where the owner lives while the owner of an unhosted rental might live in another state and hire a service to clean the place.

Chester resident and short-term rental host Nancy Pennell proposed donating part of the town forest to developers to build middle income housing

Chester resident and short-term rental host Nancy Pennell proposes donating part of the town forest to developers to build middle income housing

Russell Fearing, who has owned a house in the Stone Village since 2013, said that he and his family come here with friends, but as his children have gotten older, they have not been able to come here as much. Consequently, he said, they have been renting out their house to offset the cost of keeping it at a standard that homes should be kept in the Stone Village. Fearing said he is in town a lot, has a caretaker and rents less than six weeks a year and so he believes he falls in between the two. Whether it is unhosted or hosted, the Fearing house, which is listed on VRBO as sleeping 16 people, would be required to have an inspection and approval for occupancy by the fire marshal under both the ordinance and state law. (Editor’s note: Oct. 15: The VRBO listing for the Fearing house has been removed.)

Chester business owner Steve Mancuso saying 'If you rent a property, you are in business and you have to play the game'

Chester business owner Steve Mancuso says ‘If you rent a property, you are in business and you have to play the game.’

In fact, the only real differences between a hosted short-term rental and an unhosted short-term rental under the proposed ordinance are the requirement for non-residents in Windsor and Windham counties to have a local agent to receive service of legal process such as tickets for violations and to pay a $300 registration fee rather than the $150 charged to hosted rentals.

Second home owner Jane Gurzenda was concerned about how the town would know if a house was being rented and how fines could mount without the owner’s knowledge.

Bristow said that the town could use a company that data mines the rental platforms and finds the places being rented by their ads. He added that the Judicial Bureau – which would adjudicate the violation ticket – is very picky about the information on the ticket in an effort to prevent people from getting a judgment against them without their knowledge.

Chester resident Lori Quinn who has had problems with neighboring rentals saying that this isn't a solution, 'but it's a good first step'

Chester resident Lori Quinn who has had problems with neighboring rentals says that this isn’t a solution, ‘but it’s a good first step.’

In response to a question about people who live in Chester and rent multiple dwellings, Bristow said that only the units that are where the owner lives – a room, apartment or accessory dwelling – are considered hosted while all others would be unhosted under the proposed ordinance.

Nancy Pennell, a Chester resident and business owner, who also owns short-term rental properties, said that short-term rentals are not a major cause of the housing shortage. She also said that the town needs a comprehensive housing strategy and suggested that the town donate a portion of its town forest for developers to build middle income housing.

Business owner Steve Mancuso, also a Chester resident, said, “All these people come up here from states where there’s lots of bureaucracy and think this is the wild west. It isn’t. If you rent a property, you are in business and you have to play the game.”

Lori Quinn, who is married to Planning Commission chair Hugh Quinn, said that she has had problems with the short-term tenants in her community, which has broken down relations between neighbors. “This is not a solution,” Quinn said of the ordinance, “but it’s a good first step.”

Board member Ben Whalen saying that Chester is a community and people need homes

Board member Ben Whalen says that Chester is a community and people need homes.

Board member Ben Whalen then spoke.  “I grew up in Chester as a very, very poor individual … a home is a home. I don’t care how much money you have, I don’t care what you’re doing. A home is a home, this is a community. Chester is a place for business, it’s a place for growth, but it is a community.”

“Tourists are great, I’m happy that they go to Meditrina, I’m happy they go to our local places,” he continued, his voice breaking with emotion. But residents, he emphasized, “need a home” to live in.

“Where can someone making a blue collar wage in this town go to find a rental apartment? Where can they stay?  … you can’t find it. It doesn’t exist. Go to the real estate office and ask to find an apartment for under $1,000 a month. It’s slim pickings. You go on to VRBO and there are rental homes for $1,500 a night. … I’m glad you can come retire here, I want my children to want to stay here … or at least have that choice.”

Whalen then moved to adopt the ordinance with board member Lee Gustafson seconding, but after some discussion the motion was withdrawn pending a review of the document by town attorney Jim Carroll.

Board adopts ‘legacy’ use

Reopening the zoning bylaw amendment hearing recessed on Sept 21, the board resumed its discussion of the “legacy use.” The legacy use would allow an owner of a parcel to revive a use – for example a tavern, a quarry, sawmill or other business – that once operated on that parcel even though current zoning laws do not allow that use. Members of the Planning Commission explained that an owner seeking legacy uses would be required to go before the Development Review Board at a conditional use hearing and show that the use had a “benign history” and is part of the “town’s cultural history.”

According to commission member Peter Hudkins, the uses would go back as far as the 1700s.

“In all of our (rural) zones already, quarrying and sawmills are a conditional use so the legacy would not affect that and also lodging is a conditional use,” said Bristow, “so really the things that legacy use would allow in our rural and residential districts would be retail stores, restaurants and light industry.”

“My personal feeling is that the legacy use would be invoked rarely and that the DRB has the full authority to say no if there are neighbors who say they don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Bristow. On Sept. 21 – in answer to a comment by Select Board chair Arne Jonynas – Hudkins said, “This comes back to ‘do you trust the DRB?’ ”

In the end the Select Board did trust the DRB, adopting the legacy use unanimously.

Board reverses ‘denial’ of public records request by Nied

An emergency executive session was added to the agenda of the Chester Select Board’s Oct.5 meeting for a “review of legal response to an appeal of a ‘denial’ of a public records request made to Whiting Library.” Jonynas felt that the executive session was not necessary and the discussion went on in public.

According to Town Manager Julie Hance, a request for public records was made to the library, but there was some confusion in responding to the request within the three business day window laid out in state law. The lack of response is considered a denial under the law and the requester, the former chair of the library’s Board of Trustees Robert Nied, appealed the “technical” denial.

Nied’s request was for all communications between former Whiting director Deirdre Doran and current youth services librarian Carrie King and a list of just under four dozen private citizens many of whom are Chester residents, three media organizations including The Telegraph and its journalists and state, regional and national library associations or departments and their specific employees.

Also Nied made a specific request for all communications with references to himself and the Drag Queen Story Hour, which had been scheduled by the library but never held due to objections by the trustees. That situation prompted library director Doran to resign, prompting further outcries from the public. Nied and five other board members resigned.

The board said that the documents would be pulled together and given to Nied as quickly as possible.  On Tuesday morning, Oct. 11, Nied told The Telegraph that he had been given dates for the delivery of documents, which were sufficient, but would not comment further on his request.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: ChesterFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (2)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Ian Montgomery says:

    Please note that the VRBO listing for the Fearing House is still working. He is upset.

  2. Raymond Makul says:

    A house is not a home. If you do not live there, on premises, at least 184 days per year, you are not a resident. You are an absentee business owner, and should be regulated as such. People do not have the unfettered right to use property as they wish. Short term rentals are one unit motels, often owned by out of state entities controlling multiple properties over wide spread geography. I am tired of seeing strangers wandering my street and driveway. Many of these “guests” think they are in rural Disneyland and they are free to roam. Any property owner who is not a registered voter and rents short term is a business, and likely violates existing zoning ordinances