P&Z To Study Concerns Surrounding Airbnb Rentals, with An Eye on Updating Regulations

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The chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission said Monday night that the appointed body is to study problems associated with short-term home rentals through a popular online service, with an eye on possibly updating local regulations.

Though initial concerns presented by Airbnb emerged in New Canaan several months ago, P&Z did not immediately address it because the town was in process of hiring a new planner, according to John Goodwin. But she’s now in place, a second Airbnb problem on New Norwalk Road has emerged “and I have concluded that I had to more aggressively deal with it,” he told members of the Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee during their special meeting.

Specifically, he said, P&Z Commissioner Krista Neilson and Town Planner Lynn Brooks Avni will study Airbnb in New Canaan, make an assessment and report back to the full Commission with recommendations. 

“There are already sections of the regulations that deal, we think, with Airbnb and the preliminary thought is it looks like they may already be in violation of the regulations without us even having regulations that are specific to Airbnb, so take that as an idea that is being talked about,” Goodwin said at the meeting, held in Town Hall.

A guest at the meeting, Goodwin made his comments to a committee of the legislative body that’s looking at a number of possible new or updated ordinances. Goodwin referred to a section of the New Canaan Zoning Regulations that allow a “rooming house” use by special permit, though only in the B Residential zone. A “bed and breakfast” use also may be had by special permit, though conditions include screening from the street, under the regulations (see page 44 here).

Asked for a projected timeline of the Commission’s handling of the regulations with respect to Airbnb, Goodwin noted that by its nature, with the P&Z process “things do not get resolved right away.”

The public would be given ample opportunity to weigh in on any new rule that governs very short-term rentals, officials said, and any proposed new language could be expected by spring.

“It depends how on the public hearings go,” Goodwin said. “Chances are that Airbnb would attend a public hearing. I heard from them a couple of months ago.”

A recent search of the rental-by-owner service showed that more than one dozen New Canaan properties are available for nightly rentals, ranging from single rooms, cottages and townhouses to entire homes that rent from $86 to $450 per night.

Councilman Tom Butterworth noted that the issue is nuanced “because you always have to look at the rights of individual property owners.”

“To tell them you can never lease your house is unacceptable, so it’s a question of how to balance that and the neighbors and the town,” he said.

Councilman Steve Karl, the Committee’s co-chair, noted that he and others also have heard concerns from residents who have had difficulty selling their homes and turned to Airbnb to supplement their income.

“So I feel for those folks, and this is the struggle that we have now,” Karl said.

This summer, a Butler Road man noted that an Airbnb rental in his neighborhood amounted to a “small hotel business” operating there. More recently, a group of New Norwalk Road residents lodged a formal complaint with the town regarding short-term rentals for a house on their shared private driveway that bring in transient people who have wandered around the area with kids playing nearby.

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