Short-term vacation rentals banned in Weston

After hearing impassioned pleas from both sides of the debate, the Weston Board of Aldermen has passed revisions to its zoning ordinances clarifying bed and breakfast rules and prohibiting non-authorized transient rentals.

A public hearing was held prior to the Monday, June 11 regular meeting, with more than 25 people present — 15 of whom spoke up. Mayor Cliff Harvey imposed a two-minute time limit on speakers, and briefly halted the hearing to ensure no one present was there to address another item up for public hearing that night.

The board has spent years on this topic, leading up to the most recent recommendation by the city’s planning and zoning committee. The four ordinances passed 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.

Weston Millwork Company owners Bill and Celia Hewitson used their allotted times to read aloud a written statement.

“Weston relies on tourism, but when people get here there is a shortage of places to stay,” Celia Hewitson said. The ability to rent out private residences would make for a more family-friendly environment for visitors with children, she said.

Additionally, she and Bill read, the proposed ordinances limited the rights of property owners and the city’s ability to collect sales tax.

Current bed and breakfast owners, including Drew and Janelle MacDonnell, owners of Hatchery House, also spoke out.

“I’m also in favor of tourism and adding rooms, but the argument often heard that there aren’t enough rooms available in Weston isn’t true,” Janelle MacDonnell said. Their bed and breakfast sells out on only a few weekends a year, and otherwise it only takes a little planning for tourists to have rooms available.

Scott Pirtle questioned why he couldn’t do as he pleased with a home he owns but doesn’t live in. When his brother visits, he said, he stays there. But why could he not rent it out a few weekends out of the year?

Resident Marilyn Edlund said she had tried many years ago to establish rental cottages, but felt she was defamed in The Weston Chronicle for her efforts.

“You say Weston is a day trip, but it’s a three day trip,” Edlund said. “The city is losing out on sales tax by turning those people away.”

Wendy Moppin, who in 2016 approached the board seeking the legalization of short-term vacation rentals, called for a vote of the people on the subject. She said she believes the community as a whole should be given all relevant information and allowed to choose for themselves.

Other residents had different opinions. While some stood to speak to the crowd, others in the audience often piped up with their own arguments or agreements.

Dr. Ann Raab cited an economic development study that cited the most positive impact on a community came from a population of stable, long-term residents rather than tourists.

Reece Nichols real estate agent Dan Ovaitt said from his experience as an agent that he believed vacation rentals in some areas could have a negative impact on property values. A home in the historic district, or that sits alone in a more isolated or commercially-oriented area wouldn’t impact values, but in newer subdivisions or exclusively residential areas it would.

“Sellers would have to disclose nearby rental property,” Ovaitt said. “That will have an effect. Some people won’t even want to look at a property when they find out about it.”

Sue Phillips agreed that there was no shortage of rooms available in the city, and added another thought.

“It wouldn’t matter how many rooms we had since we would never have enough parking spaces to put everybody up,” Phillips said, noting that peak tourist time was around Applefest and Irishfest in October.