Stonington residents tackle short-term rentals and parking
Stonington — Residents at Monday’s town meeting debated two proposals designed to address tourism-related issues.
The first, a proposal to establish a short-term rental ordinance is scheduled for a March 13 referendum, while residents voted 71-65 on Monday to reject an updated traffic ordinance that would have increased fines and allowed the town to install parking meters.
“Mystic is a victim of its own success,” said Robert O’Shaughnessy, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners. He said that the growth and popularity of the town have led to parking problems and the proposed traffic amendment sought to offer solutions.
The amendment had called for increasing fines for parking violations from $25 to $50 and was designed to address a parking issue often found along North Stonington Road near Clyde’s Cider Mill by expanding the police department’s authority to ticket cars parked in the town’s right-of-way.
It would also have allowed the Board of Police Commissioners to authorize parking meters in town, set the cost and time limits for meters, and control the hours during which drivers would need to use them.
Many residents conflated the proposed amendment with concurrent efforts by Groton and Stonington to jointly address parking and traffic congestion issues in downtown Mystic.
Matthew Bedoin, resident and owner of Mystic Knotworks, said residents should think of the parking meters as a way to fund development of future, larger projects such as shuttles and water taxis to reduce the traffic issues in downtown Mystic.
“I stand in favor of the parking ordinance, but hesitantly. I don’t like the idea of meters. I don’t like these things, but I also know that traffic in downtown Mystic is becoming a challenge and has been a challenge,” he said.
Other residents denied there are traffic and parking problems on the Stonington side of downtown.
Resident Chris Regan said he was “lukewarm” on the amendment and that the town should not be voting on meters.
“My feeling, in regard to Stonington, is why are we solving Groton’s problem? Groton is the one that basically is approving a lot of projects that don’t have parking. We have the parking on the Stonington side,” he said.
Deputy Chief Todd Olson said on Tuesday that the Board of Police Commissioners would discuss what steps to take next in light of the rejection.
Groton Town Manager John Burt said part of Groton’s plan had been to install meters, but with the rejection of them in Stonington, his the town will need to step back and consider what the vote means for Groton. He said he personally can’t see installing meters in only part of downtown Mystic.
The proposed short-term rental ordinance appeared on the agenda for discussion purposes only, and residents on both sides of regulating the rentals argued against it.
“I think nobody likes it, so maybe that’s a good thing,” said First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough.
She explained that the proposed ordinance, which would require owners to register their short-term rental property with the town, conform to safety regulations, provide information to renters on local noise and property use restrictions as well as an explanation of the town’s trash and recycling programs, was the result of resident input. The town held several public forums to get input from residents on the issue.
Town Attorney Jeffrey Londregan said the state has not passed any regulations regarding short-term rentals despite repeated efforts by interested groups. He said that legal ambiguities create the possibility that a more stringent ordinance would be challenged, which would be costly to the town.
“This area of the law is rather new to Connecticut; there are no real cases addressing short-term rentals, and ordinances and enforcement of them, and what can and can’t be regulated,” he said adding, “it probably doesn’t go far enough for some people, while others probably think it goes too far.”
Resident Bryan Bentz urged people to vote against the ordinance at the referendum.
“I have spoken with a number of people in Mystic and other areas who have had problems with short-term rentals and the renters causing problems. My concern here is that this ordinance does nothing to address that. It’s a registration process, and the downside of the registration process is that if you don’t comply, in certain cases, you can lose the ability to get a permit and ever rent your property so I think it touches property rights in ways it should not,” he said.
Another resident, Paul Goetz said that renting has been going on in town for at least 150 years and is “part of the fabric of this community,”
“When you are not using your vacation home, you can rent it out so that vacation homes are not beyond the reach of ordinary people,” he said.
“There are whole communities that are nothing but seasonal homes where nearly everyone rents,” he said, adding, “that’s the way that ordinary people are able to participate in Stonington.”
Others expressed that the ordinance did not go far enough and complained that it did nothing to address problems caused by short term rentals in town.
One resident said the opportunity to purchase a home for use as a short-term rental has driven up housing prices and is now pricing people out of the town.
Another said a registration would give residents a way to address problems caused by renters.
Chesebrough said that she did not believe a new proposal would be developed if the proposed ordinance was rejected at the referendum.
“We won’t be taking this back up at least between now and next November. So for us, I can say this will be the final thing, but there may be future people who try and tackle this,” she said.