Dedham hosts unconventional town reunion
DEDHAM, MA – Dedham had a healthy debate about the lack of a codified Airbnb policy in the city during the four-hour fall meeting on Monday night, held at the Dedham Health & Athletic Complex.
A unique site for a Town Meeting
It was the first town hall meeting held since the start of the pandemic, and it was the last where residents of Dedham had to adapt to a different environment.
City moderator Dan Driscoll thanked city meeting members for their civic engagement despite the challenges of COVID-19.
“You were asked twice to meet outside, once in August in the heat,” he said. “Another time, we attended a virtual city meeting of 300 people despite power outages in the city. And now, undoubtedly for the first time in Dedham’s history, we are meeting in a building big enough to park planes.
A series of tennis courts was blocked off to become the debate ground, lined with white chairs. The seats have been arranged to accommodate people with different levels of comfort due to the coronavirus rather than per enclosure. Vaccinated members of the municipal assembly sat in the front right, while a general space for those who did not want to disclose their status could sit to the left. Unvaccinated members were seated in a section towards the middle, while those who wanted to remain unmasked were invited to sit in the back.
Jim MacDonald, selected board member, who has extensive experience planning events from the July 4th Esplanade concert to the Boston Marathon, reached out to facility owners Lloyd and Roberta Gainsboro, to request its use. The Gainsboros were honored with a plaque at the start of the meeting for their donation.
“I had approached Lloyd and asked him if we could use the space,” MacDonald said. “And he said he would be more than happy to do it. It was a great gesture on his part.”
He noted the gigantic fans swaying overhead, providing a safe indoor alternative to Town Hall for a gathering of this size.
The plaque read in part: “Your kindness has provided a safe alternative to come together to conduct important city affairs in these uncertain times. “
The Airbnb policy codification has been voted – twice.
The article that sparked the most debate was Article 12, which called on Town Meeting to codify the city’s current policy of not allowing short-term rental accommodation such as Airbnbs. But there was confusion among the Town Meeting members over what was asked of them, even during the voting process. After clarifying it twice, a member requested a roll-call vote, allowing the measure to be defeated by four votes.
John Bethany, chairman of the Planning Board, explained that Airbnbs are currently not allowed in Dedham. However, Dedham has a permissive zoning policy, which lists all permitted uses. Because short-term rental units are not listed in the zoning code, they are prohibited by default. These rentals are for less than 31 days in buildings that are not hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts or shelters.
He explained that the article sought to add language to the zoning code that would specifically state what an Airbnb is and that its use is prohibited. Several Airbnbs exist in Dedham, but it is difficult to apply the policy as it is because the owners ask to see where in the code they are strictly prohibited.
“Section 12 is not intended to promote debate or discuss the regulation of short-term rentals,” Bethany said. “Clause 12 proposes to simply put in writing the current status of short term rentals here in Dedham.”
However, there has been a long debate as to why the short-term rental policy has not been discussed before.
The settlement was requested by the city’s construction department, the zoning enforcement agency, in response to complaints from residents, he continued.
“When the residents ask him, ‘Show me where it says I can’t do an Airbnb? “The building department then has to explain the permissive zoning,” Bethany said, “and how if the bylaw doesn’t say you can do it, you can’t. The owners want to see it in writing, and who can blame them? “
He said the city was “committed to holding public discussion forums bringing together a broad sense of the community,” but urged members to vote for passage of Article 12 to facilitate implementation. current policy. This could lead to a future non-binding ballot question.
Bob Loporto said he has used Airbnbs nationwide. He said he spoke to several current Airbnb owners in Dedham, who told him they “wanted strict regulation.”
“There is a happy medium here where we can see that all owners end up being happy,” he said.
Michael Warren has lived in Dedham for 73 years, 52 years at his current address. Now he said he was considering moving because of the Airbnb running next door.
He said his neighbor never told him an Airbnb would be running next door and asked for settlements.
“The most relevant to me is that I have a lot of neighbors that I don’t know,” he said of short-term tenants, 359 of whom left referrals over a five-year period. . “There haven’t been a lot of problems, but there have been some aggravations.”
Jim Sullivan, the code’s enforcement inspector, said Airbnb sites tell people to “check with your local city or town for other regulations.”
“How many people working on Airbnbs in Dedham have done this? ” He asked. “If they had, they would have been told that they are not allowed.”
He feared that the next step would be for people who don’t live in cities to buy houses to rent rooms.
Lacey Mallett said she operated an Airbnb from her home and was Warren’s neighbor.
“I have hosted over 350 reservations,” she said. “And not once have I had to talk to any of my guests about anything messy.”
“A little of it makes it feel like I have to defend myself,” she continued. “I don’t think the people who run Airbnbs are the problem.”
The article required a two-thirds vote to pass. This could not be determined by a voice vote, so a roll call vote was requested. However, on two occasions during the recorded vote, Driscoll was asked to explain the motion. The results were 121-89. There were 134 votes required for a two-thirds vote.
There was a call for a recorded vote because people were standing and seated during the count. It was then determined that the motion failed by four votes. The final tally was 131-71,
“What’s clear tonight is that we don’t have two-thirds either side of the problem,” Driscoll said.
Likewise, article 13 provided for the same codification concerning the rental of residential swimming pools. This was adopted by a two-thirds vote.