Six more applications from homeowners seeking to be licensed as short-term rentals will be considered Monday by the town council.
The properties are 33 Hawthorne Road, 8 Clinton Ave., 18 Neptune St., 11 Nun Ave., 6 Coronado St. and 32 Pemberton Ave. Neighbors with objections should attend the meeting to relay their concerns.
According to the ordinance, which was adopted in August 2023, a public hearing “shall be available to any person requesting to make comment or contest a short-term rental.” The councilors, however, as the licensing authority,
“may approve an application on their consent agenda, without public hearing or deliberation,” if no objections are made.
Approval allows these properties to be rented in 2024 for fewer than 30 consecutive days. So far, 48 of the 50 applications put before the council have been ratified via consent agenda, following administrative approval, at four meetings (Dec. 4, Dec. 18, Jan. 2 and Jan. 16). The applications for 128 Garboard St. and 87 Bow St. are the only two applications to reach a public hearing. Those properties, despite objections, also were approved Jan. 16.
The councilors have discretion in considering these applications. The ordinance says the licensing authority “reserves the right to set limits on the total number of short-term rentals permitted.” That could be a town-wide limit or based on the block, neighborhood or area. The councilors also can set limits “at their discretion upon showing of need based on finding disruption to the quiet enjoyment of a residential area, negative impact on the seasonal or affordable housing rental markets, or impairment to the integrity of the residential character of particular areas.”
During the public hearing, however, the council unanimously approved the challenged properties because they had no way of corroborating the complaints.
“This is the beginning of our learning curve,” Mary Meagher, vice president of the council, said during the hearing. “We’re learning what people are concerned about and we’re learning where we need to get more information.”
Councilman Mike White said considering complaints from the 2023 season is tough because the council did not have jurisdiction until the ordinance took effect in 2024.
“If something happened in the past, we can’t really adjudicate that,” he said. “I really can’t see us denying them if we’ve never been in charge of monitoring them.”
Councilman Randy White agreed.
“I respect the concerns that the neighbors have,” he said. “But I also have to respect the good faith of the applicant. … It’s really hard, as someone who is being asked to make a judgment, to assess the merits of either side because we’re just meeting both of you.”
Although the councilors, considering the approvals at their first public hearing, sided with the applicants, Randy White pleaded with both sides on how to act moving forward.
He asked objectors to refrain from “lying in wait” during the rental season by looking for “every single violation and creating an impossible situation for the applicant.” As for the applications with objectors, he suggested for the renters to “be especially mindful to the ongoing concerns and complaints.”
“You should do absolutely everything you can to make your neighbors happy,” he said.
The councilors asked the abutting neighbors to document their problems, if they were to continue, so there would be cause for denial next year.
“This was intended, especially in these initial stages, to be a forum so owners of an Airbnb could hear the distress of neighbors who may not have expressed it in so clear of terms before,” Meagher said. “Now it’s on the record.”
So far, 121 applicants for short-term rentals have been submitted. Not all of these have been administratively approved, however, which is required before the council considers them. There are 167 registered with the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, which also is required before it reaches the council. Not all those 167 properties, however, need approval from the council. Timeshare units are exempt.