WILMINGTON — Planning Commissioners intend to delineate the differences between lodging and short-term rentals in an upcoming zoning update in Wilmington.
The topic came up at the Planning Commission meeting Monday, where members discussed the Wilmington Select Board’s decision to return proposed zoning amendments with new suggestions.
“A little bit to my surprise,” Commission Chairman John Lebron said, “the Select Board is sending back changes with additional requests for changes.”
Lebron said “a good deal” of the recommendations have nothing to do with the commission’s proposal. They largely resulted from Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon reviewing the town’s zoning to suggest updates to make the document more consistent.
Zoning Administrator Jessica Roberts said the town attorney advised the board to send the proposal back to the commission, since the changes might be deemed substantial from what the commission initially submitted in November. The commission is expected to produce another report before the board hosts a hearing.
“We are under no obligation to say yea or nay to any of their recommendations,” Lebron said.
Unsure of when the board will send over the recommendations, Lebron estimated they might arrive next month. At the board meeting last week, Town Manager Scott Tucker said he anticipated the public hearing would be held in February.
On top of some other changes, the commission most notably submitted proposed zoning amendments in residential districts that would make STRs with four or fewer bedrooms a permitted use requiring approval from the town’s zoning administrator, and STRs with five or more bedrooms a conditional use that needs the Wilmington Development Review Board’s blessing. Neither category would require an operator on site.
Nicki Steel, former chairwoman of the Development Review Board, urged the commission to separate the definitions of STRs and lodging, and not allow lodging in the residential district.
STRs are defined as “rentals for fewer than 30 days per stay, rented for 15 or more days in any one calendar year.” They “require a Lodging Use Zoning Permit unless exempted.”
Lodging is defined as “the rental of bedrooms for overnight accommodations.” In lodging with more than two guest rooms, “meals may be provided to the general public.”
Steel also recommended moving the Chimney Hill housing development from residential to a non-residential district.
“I feel strongly that short-term rentals and lodges are commercial uses and the residential district should be maintained for residences, not for commercial uses,” she said. “That being said, I have a lot of sympathy especially for the Chimney Hill area. It was built as a resort. It makes perfect sense for them to be included in the full resort area.”
Capping the number of weeks for an STR stay and the number of people sleeping at a property related to the number of bedrooms also came up.
Commission member Michele Carlson expressed support for clearly separating the two definitions and creating a registry or some type of licensing program for STRs.
“We kind of rushed the STR permitting into the amendments we made and sent to the Select Board,” commission member Erik King said. “Perhaps … now, we can take a little more time and do it right.”
Commission Vice Chairman Brian Holt said he agrees with “relooking at it and digging into the details.”
Lebron said the commission will put topics discussed Monday on a list of items to address when the commission receives the changes from the board. Roberts noted Gannon wants to make other definitions clearer in the document.
Roberts previously told the Reformer that permits have been required for lodging or STRs in town since 1993. In 2015, the town changed restrictions in the residential zone to just two STRs. Before then, as many as six bedrooms could be used for STRs.
A proposal from the commission at an October hearing would have removed a requirement to have an operator on site at STRs in the residential district but that wouldn’t have created a pathway forward for people in the residential zone to have more than two bedrooms for STRs.
In the village zone, approval from the DRB is currently needed for STRs with more than two bedrooms being used as guest rooms. The proposal from the October hearing would have allowed for three with Roberts’ approval and more than four with DRB approval.
In the commercial zones, STRs with more than two bedrooms currently need to go to the DRB. The proposal from October would have allowed Roberts to approve as many as four, and five or more would go to the DRB.