STR owner criticizes ordinance prior to Chester board’s adoption of it

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Coming into last Wednesday’s Chester Select Board meeting it was expected that the board would be voting to adopt the updated Short-Term Rental Ordinance it has been working on since September of last year.

During that time – from October to April – there was a six-month moratorium on new unhosted STRs and a number of possible changes and additions to the ordinance that had been approved in late 2022. In the board’s packet was a “cleaned up” copy that Town Manager Julie Hance said was “ready for adoption.”

Ian Montgomery asked that the town be 'friendly' to potential short-term rental operators. <small>Photos by Shawn Cunningham, featured image courtesy of SAPA TV

Ian Montgomery asked that the town be ‘friendly’ to potential short-term rental operators. Photos by Shawn Cunningham, featured image courtesy of SAPA TV

But at the last moment, Polly Montgomery, who with her husband Ian, hosts a short-term rental in their Stone Village home,  forwarded an email with criticisms of the ordinance from Julie Marks, founder of the Vermont Short Term Rental Alliance, a trade group that lobbies for the industry in Montpelier.

Marks prefaced her criticisms, saying “If this is adopted, I’d recommend getting a petition together to either rescind or amend.” On Tuesday, June 25, Polly Montgomery told The Telegraph that she and her husband would not be submitting a petition. Marks told The Telegraph that the Alliance is a resource for information and assistance to its members but it does not organize local petition drives. She also said she was unaware of any petition being organized anyone in Chester.

Two of Marks’ objections were to sections of the original ordinance that Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow called “boilerplate.” One section requires Chester rental operators have all licenses and permits required by the state. The other states that the ordinance would take effect 60 days after adoption. Until then, the earlier version remains in force.

Marks wrote that the three additions to the ordinance would make the town “vulnerable” to legal action by homeowners. Those additions are:

  • a waiting period of one year for any newly sold property to become an STR,
  • a limit of 65 short-term rentals in the town of Chester and
  • a limit of two rentals per operator.

Speaking to the board, Ian Montgomery called the wording of the final ordinance “heavy handed” and “daunting.”

Montgomery said his neighbor, whose home is also an STR, was told by the fire marshal that he needed to install a sprinkler system and a fire alarm connected to the fire station. He added that he found those requirements onerous. Board member Peter Hudkins said that the state fire marshal follows the National Fire Protection Association code.

Montgomery said he was hoping the town could be more helpful to people trying to get into the short-term rental business and asked that the ordinance to spell out more details what a prospective short-term rental operator would need to do. Hudkins replied that the NFPA code is 24 volumes.

Zoning administrator Preston Bristow explaining his 'friendly' way of telling people how to register their properties as STRs

Zoning administrator Preston Bristow explaining his ‘friendly’ way of telling people how to register their properties as STRs

“We can’t provide a comprehensive list of all that has to be followed; part of that falls on the short-term rental operator,” said Lee Gustafson, who chaired the meeting since Arne Jonynas was ill and attended by Zoom.

“I’m hoping Chester can be a friendly town in terms of helping people understand what’s required,” said Montgomery.

“We can’t prescribe to the fire marshal what they are going to do,” said board member Arianna Knapp. “We can say ‘you have to do what the fire marshal says.'”

Bristow explained the “friendly” way he tells people who want to register a short-term rental what they have to do but said that he can’t predict what the fire marshal will require in any given situation. For those who rent to under eight guests, Bristow noted, they can self-certify that they are meeting basic requirements. He called that process “easy.”

Montgomery asked whether the grandmother of a rental guest who has the maximum number of people staying in the house under the town’s ordinance could come to dinner or if that would be a violation. This led to a long, rather circular discussion that prompted Hudkins to say he would not touch the issue of capacity “with a 10-foot pole,” and Hance to say that the town is not licensed to declare what the capacity of a building can be and doing so would open it to liability.

Board member Tim Roper asked in what situation would someone report that example as a violation? Montgomery said that there are people who like to poke their nose into other people’s business and make problems.

“Frankly, we’ve had enough prejudice against short-term rentals in this town, that I think that people are quite capable of doing that,” said Montgomery.

Commenting on the situation, Robert Nied on Zoom praised the work of Hance and Bristow as careful and reasonable and that hypotheticals lose sight of the fact that a short-term rental is a business.

Saying that a lot of work has gone into the ordinance, Jonynas moved to adopt the current draft with a couple of minor changes including specifying “Vermont” in making a reference to counties where legal process could be served on the operator of a rental. After more discussion, the board adopted the updated ordinance.

Bailey Hill Road, Domestic Animal Nuisance Ordinance and municipal tax rate

Paul Bidgood asking for an update on his request to have Bailey Hill Road removed from the town’s highway inventory

Paul Bidgood asked for an update on his request that the town take Bailey Hill Road off its highway inventory, claiming that it was given up in the past and now belongs to the landowners surrounding it. Bidgood is a Massachusetts resident who owns land in the Smokeshire area. Hudkins told Bidgood that Peter Farrar – who been doing road history research – has been ill and is not yet back on his feet. Bidgood asked when town attorney Jim Carroll would have his opinion on the question and Hance said that the information Farrar is working on will be going to Carroll for his analysis.

An updated version of the ordinance regarding nuisances caused by domestic animals was circulated. Several members commented on it and Gustafson asked if the board would like to see a clean copy at the next meeting. The board agreed.

The board also set the municipal tax rate, which pays for the cost of running the town, at $0.987 per $100 of assessed value. Hance said that is up 6 cents from last year.

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  1. RAYMOND MAKUL says:

    So, a lobbyist for the short term rental industry seeks to weaken the ordinance, with a veiled threat that if the ordinance is not changed, the town could be sued.

    Short term rentals are nothing more than one unit hotels for transients. With no host or management present. By taking away properties for owner occupancy or long term rental, they exacerbate housing shortages, create opportunities for nuisance to actual neighboring residents, and reduce the feeling of security formerly enjoyed in the neighborhood. Unlike bed and breakfasts, where a host-manager is present, the owner has no ability to supervise what is going on at the property in real time. If they install cameras, the “guests” would feel that their privacy was invaded.

    If you want to run a guest house, bed or breakfast, or motel, you should own one, conforming to zoning for such uses. But plopping strangers in a residential neighborhood, without supervision, and who may stay as little as one day before moving on to somewhere else, deteriorates the quality of life of the neighbors. I hope that the neighbors of these properties seek reductions in their tax assessments to recognize that their location is prone to nuisance on a regular basis.