After a lengthy discussion, the Town Council agrees more oversight on short-term rentals is needed across the community. The best route? Assistant Town Solicitor Marissa Desautel suggests all STRs need special-use permits from the Town's zoning board.
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ADDITIONAL SHORT-TERM RENTAL OVERSIGHT SOUGHT BY TOWN
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (MAY 2, 2022) – The Town of Middletown is looking to enact more oversight of short-term rentals in the community.
Following passionate testimony Monday night in Town Hall both against and in favor of such operations, the Town Council voted 6-0 to have legal counsel prepare a draft ordinance requiring all short-term rentals secure special-use permits from the Town’s Zoning Board of Review.
The idea came from Assistant Town Solicitor Marissa Desautel, who said the move would give the Town more teeth when dealing with such facilities — including sending violators to Superior Court. As part of that special-use permit, Desautel said the Town could enact additional time, noise and related restrictions on short-term rentals, if it choses that course.
Before such language goes into effect, it would need to be presented and approved by the council. That can’t happen without at least two widely advertised public hearings, where the public, business owners and others have a chance to comment.
Under state law Chapter 42-63.1-14(a), Desautel said Middletown cannot ban STRs outright. Nor could it prevent operators from advertising their properties online at Airbnb, Vrbo and similar online platforms.
“I would caution against a moratorium, cap or grandfathering,” Desautel said. “I don’t think the Newport scenario is the best idea.”
The situation with short-term rentals has been a simmering situation in Town for years, dividing those in favor of such operations with those who live next door and have issues.
Last summer, the Town had a council committee study short-term rentals and come up with a number of recommended changes. The town also hired new Zoning Enforcement Officer Joe Emanuel, part of whose duties is to oversee STRs. More information about what was acceptable with STRs and what wasn’t has been pushed out by the Town through fliers, mailings and https://mdl.town/STR online.
As a short-term operator, Councilman Dennis Turano recused himself from the discussion Monday night. Like Turano, Town Solicitor Peter B. Regan did not take part either.
Opening the item to public comment first, a number of residents approached the council, saying STRs were making their lives very difficult — to put it mildly.
J.H. Dwyer resident Jo-Ann Thornton said she was very concerned about the STR issue, particularly after Newport took steps to ban such operations. Living next door to an STR, Thornton said she and her family were constantly disrupted at night by noise, loud parties and other problems.
“I have a nightmare next door to me,” Thornton said.
Renfrew Park resident Rob Connerney agreed, saying the problem is so bad that many people have given up calling the Town to report problems. That’s why when the Town reports there was only a call or two a week last summer about STRs, the actual figures are much higher.
Short-term rental operator Leon Amarant said the Town should give its new regulations a chance to work, especially since so much time and effort went into studying the situation last summer.
“We haven’t even gone through a full summer with the new ordinance,” Amarant said, sympathizing with the handful of those who have trouble with STRs next door.
Short-term rental operator David Rushlow said he takes great pride working with his neighbors and not having issues. But Rushlow said it’s clear there are those who have problems and those needed to be fixed.
“We have to get something going to solve this problem,” Rushlow said.
Desautel said if the Town enacted the special-use permit process, each short-term rental operator would need to apply and be approved by the zoning board. As part of that process, whether the property was a nuisance could come into play from the Police Department, Building Department and other sources.
“It would be up to the property owner to decide whether to go through with the special-use permit…” Desautel said. “You would need to start from scratch and have everyone go through zoning for a special-use permit.”
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/4589/nycu-str