Public hearing set for short-term rentals in Weston

The long-debated issue of short-term vacation rental properties in Weston is again on the agenda.

A public hearing on four potential ordinances governing short-term rentals — such as those brokered through sites such as Airbnb and VRBO —will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 11. The city’s planning and zoning commission has recommended approval of these ordinances, before an August state deadline.

The proposed ordinances include an outright ban of transient guest rentals in any residential dwelling for less than 31 days; changes to the definition section of the city’s zoning code; changes to the special use exceptions governing bed and breakfasts; and additional regulation on the bed and breakfast code.

City attorney Jeremy Webb said he could immediately see problems with the first proposed ordinance, as month-to-month rental contracts could range from 28 to 31 days, depending on the month. He said he would further investigate this proposal before the public hearing.

This is a well-worn topic for the board, and last August it came to the board’s attention that a property on Washington Street was being advertised as available for rental on Airbnb. Before that, in February 2017, a business owner suggested opening an upstairs “lodging house” in the downtown historic district.

In early 2015, the city shut down an unlicensed short-term vacation rental home near downtown and in 2016 a Weston resident unsuccessfully sought the legalization of short-term rental properties.

Earlier this year, then-alderman Joyce Burch brought up the subject again, saying the owner of an existing city bed and breakfast had told her she may open an Airbnb. Burch said the general public was unaware that Airbnbs were illegal in the city and suggested the planning and zoning commission tighten and clarify the law.

The cleanup of the Sebus Brothers True Value Hardware store on Main Street is continuing, slowly.

Built in 1850, the hardware store has been a Main Street fixture for decades. However, deterioration over the last several years has drawn the attention of the city. Letters warning Chuck and Bill Sebus of dangerous conditions at two of their properties were sent out by the city in early March. At the March 12 board meeting, the board closed the Main Street business and also voted to order the Sebus brothers to tear down a badly deteriorated home at 926½ Thomas Street. Currently, the owners are removing items stored in the home.

“I don’t want this to drag on like that mess in the back (of the Main Street store) dragged on where we sent you letters for years and nothing was done,” said mayor Cliff Harvey to Chuck Sebus, who has attended each meeting.

Sebus said he was still removing business merchandise that had been stored in the old home. Once he was done, he would tear the building down himself.

Harvey said if the house was not demolished soon, the city could tear it down itself and charge Sebus for it through his tax bill.

The back of the Main Street store — the mess to which Harvey referred — has been cleaned up, and a crumbling back wall rebuilt. An engineer’s report found that the hardware store needed a new roof, and Sebus has been in contact with contractors. Replacement of the windows and interior work cannot be completed until the roof is done.

A checklist of items in need of address before the store could reopen was sent to Sebus in March, and several remain, including replacement or repair of guttering and building fascia, including brick tuckpointing, as well as general cleanup of clutter inside the store.

According to the engineer’s report, the primary cause for concern in the building is water damage from the roof. Other potential problems, such as possible termite damage, additional rot and electrical or plumbing problems cannot be assessed until the roof is replaced and all damaged ceiling and floor materials are removed.

Webb reminded the board that work needed to progress at a steady pace, otherwise a hearing would be scheduled.

Also at the meeting, public works director Mike Large said that city workers would flush fire hydrants on Monday, May 21. Smoke testing of sewer lines will be done on Tuesday, June 19, and residents should not be alarmed if they see small amounts of smoke coming out of the system.