Lenox board sets bylaw proposals on rentals for special town meeting

LENOX — After one more slog through the complexities of regulating short-term Airbnb and other online rentals, the Planning Board has approved, 3-1, a set of bylaw proposals for the Nov. 1 special town meeting.

The recommendation eases rules on rentals of up to two bedrooms by full-time residents who are on-site, allowing those year-round in all zones instead of the current seasonal limits, but only for 30 consecutive days or fewer for each rental period.

It also sets requirements for whole-house legal residents offering their entire single-family dwellings to guests for rentals of fewer than 30 days at a time. Hosts would have to obtain a nontransferable special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the whole-house short-term rentals would be allowed in all the town's zones, but only from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and weekends through Columbus Day.

There would be no limits on the total number of days that rooms in a home could be rented during the year, nor would there be limits for seasonal whole-house rentals.

The dwellings must be the primary residence of the owner or leaseholder with lodging as a secondary use. There would be new requirements for town registration, and annual health and safety inspections.

If the required two-thirds of registered voters approve the two zoning bylaw proposals, they would take effect Nov. 1, but enforcement aimed at violators would begin May 1.

Building Commission BJ Church, the enforcement officer, supported that date, urging that the bylaw should be "set up for success instead of setting it up for possible failure."

"The proposed bylaw is the outcome of an extensive public process followed by lengthy deliberation by the Planning Board," said Chairwoman Pam Kueber in an emailed comment to The Eagle. "Our goal has been to create thoughtful land use policy that reflects the changing times while continuing to protect our neighborhoods from undue commercial activity to make sure they maintain their character and livability."

"This bylaw will allow residents to continue time-honored traditions like renting their homes or a few rooms to summer visitors, and actually extends the calendar for room rentals," she said. "At the same time, it works to prevent unlimited or excessive hotel-style renting from happening in our neighborhoods. We worked very hard to strike a balance."

A public hearing is slated for 6 p.m. Sept. 12 in Town Hall, as part of the Planning Board's meeting agenda. Earlier, a report on the proposals will be presented to the Select Board, whose meetings are usually televised by CTSB-TV for Spectrum cable customers and also available on the CTSB website.

The goals of the proposed bylaw include:

- To protect neighborhoods from undue commercial activity, maintaining their character and livability;

- To minimize public safety risks for guests and visitors and to minimize possible nuisances for neighbors;

- To sustain the supply and affordability of residential housing available to local community families and individuals who live and work in the region.

The bylaw requires that "short-term rental property owners or leaseholders shall ensure that renters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the neighborhood."

And once the regulations take effect, if they're approved. no rooms, single-family dwellings, apartments or already-permitted accessory dwelling units already used for short-term rentals can be "grandfathered" — allowed to continue operating as they have been — unless they comply with the town's existing zoning bylaw at the time the rental business began.

On Tuesday night, the board fine-tuned the basic proposals, based on suggestions from Town Counsel Joel Bard of KP Law and from Gwen Miller, the land use director and town planner. Much of the discussion centered on concerns by some that short-term "accessory dwelling unit" rentals could deplete the already limited supply of affordable housing in Lenox.

Accessory dwelling units can be within or attached to a principal structure, such an attic, basement or connected garage, but not a free-standing detached unit, according to the proposed bylaw approved Tuesday. Up to two bedrooms could be rented short term year-round for owners who have obtained a special permit for their units by Nov. 1, the date of the upcoming special town meeting.

Board member Deborah Rimmler argued that there has been no major public pushback against the use of such units for short-term rentals and that surveys show wide support for that use.

"I don't think there's any evidence that it's moving the needle in terms of affordable housing," she said. "This whole process is going into the area of affordable housing without any evidence. It's not a best practice in making public policy."

"I'm opposed to this whole bylaw anyway, so it doesn't matter to me how you guys do it," Rimmler added.

The Planning Board also approved, 3-1, a general bylaw detailing registration and compliance requirements. That would require only a simple majority, and would be presented only if the zoning bylaws are approved.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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