January 19, 2024 4:49 pm
• Last Updated: January 19, 2024 5:24 pm
East Lyme ― Residents and property owners will once again have a chance to weigh in on how to address short term vacation rentals in town now that the committee charged with making a formal recommendation has determined some level of regulation is needed.
A legal notice for the Jan. 29 public hearing was posted Friday by the Ad Hoc Short-Term Rental Committee. Members were charged in August by the Board of Selectmen with deciding whether complaints about noise, garbage and parking related to overnight and weekend renters is something that requires local government intervention.
At a Wednesday meeting, the committee of eight agreed with Co-Chairwoman Anne Santoro’s assessment that they were ruling out the two extreme options: banning short-term rentals or doing nothing at all.
“I get the sense from everybody we’re looking for reasonable restrictions,” she said.
Member Greg McIntire, a resident of Shore Road, agreed.
His neighborhood has been the source of some of the complaints about cars overtaking the streets and rowdy renters.
“I’ve said from the beginning that I didn’t want to ban short-term rentals,” he said. “And I think doing nothing after all the time and effort we put in is unacceptable as well.”
McIntire spoke in favor of a “simple permit system.”
He said knowing where the short-term rentals are and who owns them would go a long way toward controlling any problems.
Gary Farrugia, a former publisher at The Day and a resident of the Saunders Point neighborhood, said he’s come around to the idea of a permitting system.
“It’s good for transparency,” he said. “It’s good to have an enforcement vehicle where bad actors can have their permits yanked and then they’re no longer in the short term rental business.”
Registration would also make it easier for the police department and fire marshal’s office to investigate complaints, he said.
Police Chief Mike Finkelstein has said complaints about short-term rentals do not appear to generate many calls to the police, but he cautioned the department doesn’t necessarily know which properties are short-term rentals and which ones aren’t. He added not all complaints in a given neighborhood are address specific, which means it can be unclear if an illegally parked car or noise on the beach stems from an short-term rental.
Santoro suggested strengthening existing ordinances could improve the situation without adding new laws to the books.
She pointed to the noise ordinance that Finkelstein described as “unenforceable.”
The chief on Friday said the ordinance should be reviewed to ensure the department has access to the devices and training needed to measure decibel levels, among other concerns.
The ordinance authorizes police to issue fines of $90 for each day noise continues.
Finkelstein emphasized officers are authorized under state law to issue infractions and make arrests for excessive noise anywhere in town, regardless of the noise ordinance. He pointed to public disturbance, second-degree breach of peace and disorderly conduct provisions in state statute that allow police to judge when noise is “unreasonable” rather than relying on specific decibel levels like the noise ordinance does.
Officers can consider factors like the time of day, if the noise is close to homes, what type of noise it is and how long it lasts.
Ordinance or Zoning Regulation?
A foundational question for the committee is whether to address the issue by devising a town-wide ordinance that would supersede existing beach association regulations, or to update the town’s zoning regulations to include new guidelines that wouldn’t touch beach associations with their own regulatory powers.
The communities of Black Point, Giants Neck and Crescent Beach have separate zoning regulations.
Town Attorney Mark Zamarka in a memo to the committee strongly advised members to go the ordinance route.
“An ordinance would apply to all residences in East Lyme and could also provide for fines if the ordinance was violated,” he wrote. “A regulation would not apply to the three beach communities.”
But members like Anne Thurlow, a former Zoning Commission chairwoman who lost her reelection bid but was appointed to to fill a commission vacancy this week, said she was leaning toward addressing short-term rentals through the zoning regulations that would allow the beach communities to retain their autonomy.
“We should look at different parts of town and look at what makes sense in each part of town,” she said.