Planning Commission considers options as moratorium continues

By Don Nelson

Winthrop residents got their first look at proposed new regulations for overnight rentals within the town last week, and as expected it’s a complex topic.

The Winthrop Planning Commission hosted a public workshop on the issue of vacation rentals on Oct. 23 at the Winthrop Barn. The commission has been working on possible revisions to definitions, regulations and zoning affecting overnight rentals, in particular, the conversion of existing homes to rentals.

In July, the Winthrop Town Council adopted a six-month moratorium on the issuance of business licenses for new “overnight/transient rentals.” The temporary moratorium was adopted because of a growing concern over a decline in the supply of rental and owner-occupied housing due to the conversion of the existing housing into overnight and short-term tourist accommodations.

Town Planner Rocklynn Culp told the gathering at the Barn last week that the Planning Commission has been researching the issue extensively, looking at how other jurisdictions have handled the challenges of what she called the “sharing economy” in their communities.

The informal workshop allowed attendees to review proposed changes and revised zoning maps, and to talk with Culp and Planning Commission members. Earlier, Culp said that “we aim to strike a balance that protects neighborhood character, supports affordable local housing, and works for the local tourist economy.”

Culp told attendees that an increase in conversions from residences to overnight rentals in 2017 and 2018 raised red flags about what could become a growing phenomenon. More inquiries have been coming, she said. She noted that the term “vacation rentals” covers a lot of varieties of accommodations.

Winthrop’s residential housing stock is already under strain, Culp said, which affects individuals, families and employers.

The Planning Commission’s goals, Culp said, are to protect the town’s stock of long-term rental housing and owner-occupied homes, preserve “neighborhood character,” and to “level the playing field” for local businesses dealing with the “sharing economy.”

Definitions

The commission offered two proposed definitions for overnight rentals:

• Nightly rental/transient rentals, characterized as “the use of a dwelling unit by any person or group of persons entitled to occupy for rent a period of less than 30 consecutive days.”

• Owner-occupied transient rentals (formerly B&Bs), allowed to rent up to two rooms to overnight guests for fewer than 30 consecutive days. The facility would be required to be the principal residence of the property owner, and property owners would be required to stay on the site during visitors’ stays. Rooms for rent would not include rooms within a detached or attached-accessory living unit.

The proposals include a two-page spreadsheet of definitions, allowed zoning, parking, signage and waste disposal requirements, licensing, permitting and enforcement regulations, and other expectations of the owners such as providing adequate contact information for transient rentals.

Culp the proposal includes provisions for revoking a permit for noncompliance. Also proposed is that any permit would not “travel” with the property when sold, but rather the new owner would have to go through a permitting process.

Culp also reviewed existing zoning regulations and added comments about their applicability.

At last week’s meeting, the zoning maps — existing, and as proposed — were of particular interest to attendees. Any changes to any of the maps and zoning regulations would have to go through a public hearing process before being considered for adoption by the Town Council.

Culp said the Planning Commission’s “fast-track” timeline is to continue working on the proposed changes in November, give them a final review in December, and send recommendations to the Town Council by next January. The current moratorium was adopted by the council in early July as an emergency action, at the recommendation of the Planning Commission.

For information about the proposals, email planner@townofwinthrop.com or call 996-2320.