Chester hones STR ordinance changes as moratorium nears end

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After a routine reorganization following Tuesday’s Town Meeting Day election, the Chester Select Board, with new member Tim Roper, got down to working on some proposed changes to its Short-Term Rental Ordinance. The board’s six month moratorium on new un-hosted rentals ends on April 1 and it does not look like changes to the ordinance will be finalized by then so the board will also have to decide whether or not to extend it when they meet again on March 20.

At earlier meetings, the board had asked Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow to incorporate several changes into the existing ordinance, including:

  • a waiting period before newly purchased homes could be rented,
  • a cap on the number of STRs in town,
  • the density or minimum distance between rentals,
  • a limit on how many rentals one owner can have and a prohibition on corporate ownership.

Preston Bristow explains some of the changes in the ordinance Photos by Shawn Cunningham

According to the draft created by Bristow, rentals that are hosted are not subject to most of these restrictions. In addition, the term “non-hosted” is being substituted for “unhosted” to describe a rental that is not the operator’s primary residence and the annual fee for such rentals would be raised from $300 to $600 per year.

As the board began its discussion, Chester resident Joe Karl, who said he has been a real estate agent for many years, said he believes that the ordinance is “overreaching in some spots and missing in others.”

Specifically, Karl said that it is state law that there has to be a fire and safety inspection in all rentals not just those that sleep more than eight people. Bristow explained that the state made that “carve out” because it did not have enough inspectors for the demand. The current ordinance allows an owner to “self certify” that they meet the safety requirements for rentals sleeping eight or fewer.

Joe Karl speaks to the changes he feels would make the ordinance more effective

Karl also said that the one-year waiting period for a new buyer “seems un-American and overreaching.” He felt the same way about the limit on the number of rentals and the density limit, which would ban non-hosted STRs within 1,000 feet of another STR. He suggested eliminating the cap on rentals, as well as the waiting period and density limit. He also suggested enforcing the fire safety and zoning rules and establishing a limit on the number of days an STR can be rented.

In the past, Bristow and Lister Cathy Hasbrouck – who also administers the registration program created by the ordinance – have said that it would be difficult to get a count on rental days, but the new company hired to help with compliance can provide that.

Karl said a limit on the number of days will “send investors flying.”

Board member Arianna Knapp said any restriction will be a problem for somebody, but they have to find the ones that achieve the town’s goals

Board member Arianna Knapp said that any restriction is going to be a problem for somebody, but that the board wants to find ones that best accomplish their goals. With regard to the cap on the number of STRs, Knapp said there is nothing un-American to be told that a there is a limit to a product or service.

Karl said he gets calls from people interested in a buying house to put in a rental portfolio and the limit on the number of rental days will stop that. He also gets calls from people from away saying that they  “can’t quite afford” to buy a house, but if they were allowed to rent it out, that would help them to buy it.

“Someone calling to buy a second home and they just can’t afford it?” questioned Board chair Arne Jonynas, who added that he doesn’t have the sympathy for them that he has “for people who live in this town that are looking to make ends meet.”

‘I don’t want to see Chester turn into a shell of a town,’ said Arne Jonynas

“I don’t want to see Chester turn into a shell of a town,” said Jonynas. “These are things we are trying to do because we are passionate about our town and trying to protect it.” He said in all the time the board has spent on this issue, it’s gotten some pushback “and most of the time it’s been real estate folks.”

“My heart is in this with all of you,” said Karl, who also serves on the town’s new Housing Commission to address the housing shortage. “I want to find equitable housing for locals,” including his daughters and colleagues.

Saying that the ordinance is a living document that can be changed relatively easily, the board decided to eliminate the density limit and add the fire inspection for rentals under eight people if the Fire Safety division says they have the necessary personnel. Knapp said they could revisit the cap on non-hosted rentals periodically. Others suggested having Bristow alert them to any need to do that.

The board will send the proposed changes to the town’s attorney along with the application form currently used for the STR registry. The board could extend the moratorium at its next meeting.

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  1. G. Donohue says:

    Three points:
    1. Why not put the proposed STR rules to a town vote? Present the facts and let the community voice it’s opinion. Claiming one is passionate about the town on an issue implies that those who disagree are not passionate. Let’s keep this about the facts.

    2. At the very least, a Realtor’s input should be respectfully considered. Real Estate Agents are allies and not enemies of the town. They are responsible for making prospective purchasers aware of the town rules and state laws and partner with the town on committees and workshops for valuable feedback.

    3. What should be considered is, does Chester want to be a welcoming town or a highly restrictive town? Since at least the early 2000s Chester has always been half second homes and half full time homes. Hopefully, the Select board can propose a sensible STR ordinance that balances the needs of all the residents.

  2. Beverly Hart says:

    Mr. Karl,

    Do you live next to one of these rentals? I do, just in the past two weeks we have been witness to rude and unneighborly like behaviors. There needs to be some regulations in place for these absent hosts who are sitting comfortably while making money off rude and inconsiderate people they would not want to rent next to their homes.

    The most recent guests who left on Sunday were so very kind and left the bright porch light on that shines right in our bedroom. It is still currently on, even though the caretaker/cleaners have been there.

  3. stephen Lavoie says:

    I first came to Chester when I was eight years old in 1962, and the town was a beehive of activity. Now when I drive through town it’s like no one lives here. Just try to find a place to live and you will see that most houses are being bought up to rent out. We moved to West Virginia for three years and when we return in 2022, we had to pay more than the sellers were asking after losing five other bids on houses.

  4. If a person wants to buy a second home and cannot afford it, the answer is to not buy it. Or buy one in a cheaper area. Maybe Springfield, or Rutland, or Claremont NH

  5. Robert Sartini says:

    “Karl said a limit on the number of days will “send investors flying.” Well I think that’s the point isn’t it?