CAVENDISH, Vt. – At their Jan. 4 meeting, the Cavendish Planning Commission reviewed changes to the Proposed Subdivision Regulations and discussed potential effects of introducing town policies on short-term rentals (STRs). The latter conversation was briefly interrupted midway through by a Zoom bombing, the latest in a series of such disruptions to area municipal meetings.
With no changes to the agenda or public comments, the meeting began promptly and progressed quickly to a review of the second draft for the Proposed Subdivision Regulations. Mount Ascutney Regional Commission executive director Jason Rasmussen, who did the majority of the editing, detailed the document’s most relevant changes to the commission, and offered brief summaries of the less consequential edits.
Most of the changes were minor, said Rasmussen, but the few larger ones included added language to clarify administrative processes in approving subdivisions, and updating the planning commission’s road and bridge standards to match town and state road requirements. Rammussen had also added detail to the subdivisions waiver section, which allows for the waiver of most town standards on a case-by-case basis.
Chairman Tim Calabrese proposed having an open forum sometime during the early spring to allow the public to review and discuss the proposed regulations before they are formally submitted to the selectboard. The commission brainstormed possible dates, times, and venues, ultimately agreeing to follow up with town manager Rick Chambers and Selectboard Chairman Bob Glidden before publishing the draft and making further plans.
As requested at the Dec. 11 selectboard meeting, the commission began discussing the possibility of regulating STRs – rental homes that are occupied for at least 14 days a year but no more than 30 days at a time. Unlike other area towns which have been drawing increased administrative attention to these units since they were popularized by services such as Airbnb and Vrbo, Cavendish does not have any regulations in place for short or long-term rental homes. State law dictates that all rentals must be certified by the state fire marshall or self-certify. However, planning commission member and owner of Open Door Vacation Rentals Noah Schmidt says that lack of education and enforcement around these policies means they are not commonly implemented in town.
As a small town, Cavendish would face many challenges applying more rigorous policies. Schmidt noted that the Vermont Short-Term Rental Alliance had made a guide for towns seeking to add STR regulations, including recommendations for zoning laws and creating a self-reporting registry for STRs. Cavendish does not use zoning laws, but the alternative – developing, maintaining, and enforcing a self-registration system that would amount to “almost a full-time position,” according to Schmidt – calls for personnel that Cavendish does not have or cannot spare. Schmidt and fellow member Bruce McEnaney noted that other Vermont towns, including Chester and Killington, have outsourced this work to third-party private companies such as Granicus and GovOS. These software systems could streamline the self-reporting process for STR owners and make data aggregation easier for the town, but these services would come with a fee. Schmidt said that Ludlow paid around $26,000 for the initial set-up of the system, and $40,000 for a year of monitoring, but he was not sure how that would translate to a smaller town such as Cavendish.
All members voiced concerns for safety issues. Developing a registry would give the volunteer fire department accurate information on area building occupancy in the event of a fire. It could also inform management of the town water supply and sewage system, the latter of which McEnaney claims was prone to reach capacity during the winter vacation times before more recent upgrades. Town liability was also a concern, with member Shirley Clark asking if the town could be sued if they did not develop firmer regulations, or if the regulations were not properly enforced.
The planning commission agreed to discuss STR regulations further at a later date, concluding the meeting 58 minutes after it began.
The Cavendish Planning Commision meets the first Wednesday of every month, at 6:30 p.m., in the Cavendish Town Hall and on Zoom.