Richmond weighs regulations on short-term rental properties

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RICHMOND — Short-term home rentals of rooms or entire houses by owners not on site would come under new regulations under revised zoning rules under consideration.

The town is among several communities in the county, notably Lenox and Stockbridge, currently wrestling with or planning to deal with the impact of the short-term vacation rental market, primarily through online sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway owned by Expedia.

The Richmond Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Town Hall, 1529 State Road (Route 41). The amendment to the zoning bylaws would require a two-thirds vote in favor at the annual town meeting at 7:30 p.m. May 16 in Richmond Consolidated School, 1831 State Road.

"We were asked by the selectmen to look at this," said John Hanson, a Planning Board member and former chairman who will preside at the public meeting. He noted a request from residents of View Drive to look into an especially active short-term rental dwelling in their neighborhood.

Hanson also cited proposed legislation working its way toward a state House and Senate conference committee on Beacon Hill. "We wanted to be prepared for when that law comes out," he said.

The zoning bylaw revision, if adopted, would apply only to the short-term rental, one to 30 nights, of a house, rooms within a dwelling, or rental of an accessory structure or rooms within it by an absentee owner not residing at the site or an investor-owner.

If operated as the principal use of a house — and the owner is not living there — a short-term rental is being run as a business, Hanson said. Thus, it would require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to the proposal, the by-right rental of rooms by a resident family, known as an accessory use and currently allowed in all zoning districts, would continue unchanged. The right to operate a bed-and-breakfast through a special permit from the ZBA also would not be affected by the proposed zoning revision.

The bylaw amendment would require the following:

- The short-term rental business operated by a nonresident or investor-owner must pass a safety inspection by the buildings inspector and comply with all town regulations and bylaws, as well as state laws, including health and safety rules.

- As outlined in the current bylaw covering B&B's, the town's Zoning Board of Appeals would have to determine that the lot size, buildings, structures, off-street parking and other facilities and equipment are adequate for the proposed short-term rental use, and that the operation of the business would not be detrimental to the neighborhood.

The Planning Board felt that short-term rentals are a new activity being run as a business in a residential district, Hanson pointed out. Since the town has no businesses in residential areas, he added, "we felt that the neighborhood needed to have some input on the magnitude of what's being proposed. That's why a special permit would be required, based on size of rental, and other kinds of requirements."

Richmond has a very small commercial zone, but the town's principal businesses, Bartlett's Orchard and Hilltop Orchards & Furnace Brook Winery, are in the residential-agricultural zone.

"We encourage as much as possible the maintenance of the agricultural businesses we have," Hanson said. "We want to see the farms stay in business."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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