Alford, Washington and West Stockbridge are working on new short-term rental regulations | Local News
After Great Barrington, North Adams and Lenox, smaller towns in Berkshire such as Alford and Washington are trying to change their bylaws to regulate short-term rentals.
Both the Alford and Washington planning councils are moving towards developing formal rules on short-term rentals. The idea is to make the cost of living more affordable for current city residents, while preserving the cities character.
Alford, which has a population of around 500, currently has no short-term rental regulations. Planning board chairman Larry Gadd said city bylaws don’t allow short-term rentals “by omission.” The council’s proposed changes include only allowing residents of the city – the people who vote in the city – to offer short-term rentals such as AirBnb or Vrbo.
“You have to be an Alford resident to do this. You have to be here more than six months a year and be a legal resident here,” Gadd said. “You can’t really be a snowbird. You cannot be a resident of Florida and vote in Florida and do it here. You must vote here.
“The goal is to allow people who want or need extra income to do so on a limited basis,” Gadd continued. “This way we avoid people building or buying homes just for short-term rental purposes, because we want the community to remain the community and not a hotel.”
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According to Gadd, last week’s public hearing in Alford was civil. “I expected something more controversial,” he said. The public debate on short-term rentals has been controversial elsewhere, including in Great Barrington. In June last year, voters in Great Barrington approved a short-term rental bylaw that limits rental days to 150 per year and a tax on rents that would be used to meet affordable housing needs.
In 2019, Lenox voters OK’d have a plan limiting short-term rentals to 75 days a year, with an option for landlords to request 35 more. And in December of last year, North Adams approved an ordinance requiring short-term rentals to register with the city and be inspected annually, as well as allowing short-term rentals in owner-occupied properties as of right – without special permits – in almost all city areas, among other stipulations.
But Alford and Washington, as well as West Stockbridge, which is considering new short-term rental regulations, have considerably smaller populations than North Adams, Great Barrington and Lenox, which dictates how the conversation is framed.
Joe Roy, chairman of West Stockbridge’s Vision committee, recounted a November 2022 forum about the possibility of short-term tenancy changes with town residents.
“The conversation about short-term rentals revolved around a series of questions about the needs of many residents who want to add secondary suites for additional family members or potential rental units,” Roy wrote in an email. “There was considerable concern about the effects of residential uses evolving into commercial uses [in residential districts] by having land and structures become hotels in residential areas and how this can affect the rural character of our city.
West Stockbridge has a population of around 1,200.
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission executive director Thomas Matuszko said the USRA had no official position on short-term rentals.
“It’s an interesting question because on the one hand it can be a good way for community owners to get some income, especially if there’s an older couple and their kids have moved out, they have a spare bedroom or two, but they’re struggling to pay property taxes,” Matuszko said. “At the same time, if there’s a plethora of short-term rentals, they could have a negative impact on a community’s housing stock by taking a lot of homes and affecting affordable housing in the city.It’s a mixed bag.
“There’s a balance to be found, and that’s what cities are trying to do,” Matuszko added.
One of the changes to Alford’s regulations includes the introduction of fines for people who illegally host short-term rentals. As Gadd points out, it’s hard to enforce a rule when there are no written penalties.
“There are issues with the health department where they have to be inspected, there are tax issues, they would have to pay taxes on that money, all kinds of things included in this settlement,” Gadd said. “This is the planning board regulation, there is also a municipal regulation, which will contain other things like the penalty if you don’t follow the rules that have been laid down.”
Gadd said the city is aware that people have short-term rentals right now, even though they’re not supposed to.
Once the select committee has voted on the new bylaw, the issue will be addressed by voters at the town hall.
“We’re trying to resolve any objections now so the town hall doesn’t become a breeze,” Gadd said.
Washington, which has a population of about 500 and is a city where more than two-thirds of the land is municipally or state-owned, is currently zoned only residential and agricultural.
Planning Board Chairman Don Gagnon said the proposed changes to the regulations are intended to provide guidelines for short-term rentals, which are currently unregulated in Washington.
“The reason for the STR is to put guardrails on the way to do it,” Gagnon said. “It just allows people, if they’re going to. “You have to follow these rules.”
Those rules are not yet public, Gagnon said.
” We are close. Once we vote it will be something we can share,” he said.
The aim of the new regulations is to “support and promote the town as an attractive travel destination”, “provide a range of accommodation for visitors and guests to the town”, “preserve and protect the single-family character of the city,” and to “allow residents to earn extra money on their properties to better afford to live here, maintain their properties, and contribute to the community,” Gagnon said.
The BRPC advised Washington on the matter.
“We’ve been working with the planning board in Washington for several months now and they have a plan, but there’s a public process the city has to go through,” Matuszko said. “This includes a formal public hearing. Washington is not quite at that stage yet. They haven’t gone to their public hearing yet. This will happen later this spring, with the intention of having it voted on at the municipal assembly in the spring.
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