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Do short-term, AirBnB-style rentals represent a normal use or require more regulation? At a Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) meeting on Aug. 1, the commission made no decisions but decided to continue to look into possibly introducing measures to regulate the use of short-term rentals in Madison.
Director of Planning and Economic Development David Anderson said the issue was discussed at a meeting held earlier in the summer, and reports of the meeting led to some residents getting the false notion that the town was going to begin cracking down on short term rentals. Anderson said that’s not the case, and that at this point the town has a neutral position on short term rentals.
“The only reason it got to our attention is we had a handful of people pretty consistently talk about it,” Anderson said.
Noting Madison’s proximity to the shoreline, Anderson said that short-term rentals have long been a business in town, particularly in the summer months. Anderson said that the current regulations do not clearly define what counts as a short-term rental.
“That might be something the commission decides to look at, defining what counts as short term,” Anderson said.
Proponents of short terms rentals have argued that by renting out a room or property, they gain the ability to supplement their income. On the other hand, opponents say that rented out properties, particular those in residential zones, can negatively affect the character of their neighborhood, property values, and their quality of life.
“If you look at other articles written about this issue, there’s pros and cons and we’ll weigh both sides,” Anderson said.
In Madison in particular, the complaints have been about the guests and their actions.
“The people who were complaining had specific complaints about behavior,” Anderson said, noting that regulating the behavior of people isn’t something the PZC can adequately handle.
At the meeting, the PZC agreed with that assessment, noting that there can be bad behavior by neighbors whether or not they are the owners of the property or are just visiting.
The issue of short-term rentals is not unique to Madison. Last year, the Town of Chester adopted changes to its zoning regulations to limit the duration and maximum occupancy of short-term rentals and limit the amount of times a property can be rented out in a three-month period.
The impetus for Chester amending its zoning regulations was frequent complaints about the continued rental of one specific property. Common complaints about the property reportedly centered on safety, preserving Chester’s small-town identity, and the reality of decreasing property values due to events taking place at that property.
As for the path forward in Madison, Anderson said there will be an informal joint meeting scheduled for the near future between members of the Board of Selectmen, Economic Development Commission, and PZC to continue to discus the matter.
“I think we should continue looking at it, but I don’t want to clamp down. We are a summer town and a shoreline town,” said PZC member Jim Matteson.
Chairman Ron Clark agreed, saying the PZC had to ask, “Are we creating a very laborious solution to a non-issue?”
Anderson said that it is entirely possible that the PZC could decide to do nothing about the issue, or perhaps decide that there does need to be more guidelines.
“It’s not a formal, big public meeting at this point. We’re going to get together to bat it around a little bit,” Anderson said.
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