In response to some residents' complaints, Richmond Planning Board eyes bylaw to regulate short-term rentals

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RICHMOND — Town officials have short-term home rentals on Airbnb and other internet sites on their radar, following some complaints from residents.

The Planning Board is considering crafting a bylaw on rentals of 30 days or less for voters to review at the annual town meeting on May 16, according to Town Administrator Mark Pruhenski.

"We've had pockets of problems, particularly on the shores of Richmond Pond," he said at Town Hall recently. He cited congestion there, with many seasonal cottages "on top of each other."

Elsewhere in town, Pruhenski noted, there's a house on View Drive that sleeps as many as 16 people.

"That's the one where we've had the most problems and complaints from neighbors," he pointed out.

"A home on that road was purchased several years ago and remodeled," he said. "The property owners now don't even live in the country, so they rent it short-term. They're having big wedding parties coming, and we have no way to regulate it."

Summer rentals have been common in Richmond and nearby towns for many years, the town's part-time marketing specialist Laura Brennan commented. "This has been part of the tourism industry in the Berkshires for a long time, but it hasn't always been in our faces as Airbnb has made it," she noted.

"There are times of the year when our traditional lodging properties are full," said Brennan, whose full-time position is senior planner for community and economic development at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

"In order to have as big an impact on the economy as we want the tourism industry to have, we also have to accept that there are nontraditional lodging properties like homes rented out," she commented.

Since February is a relatively slow season for short-term vacation rentals, sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway are displaying only a handful of current listings for Richmond, but more for Lenox, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge.

In Lenox, the Planning Board's subcommittee on short-term rentals has held three public forums with an eye toward possible regulations to be proposed at a town meeting next November. Rentals of a month or more, widespread during the Tanglewood and summer theater season, are not affected by the board's review.

The Stockbridge Select Board also has the Airbnb phenomenon on its list of issues to explore at upcoming meetings, Chairman Donald Chabon said recently.

<em>Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.</em>

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