MADISON — A pair of Eidelweiss residents Tuesday implored selectmen to enforce zoning regulations against short-term rentals or propose a warrant article to do the same. If selectmen don’t take any action, the residents said they would file warrant articles of their own.
Nick Borelli, a retired builder, was on the agenda to discuss his enforcement request regarding STRs in the Village District of Eidelweiss. He was joined by Kathy Koziell, who is an Eidelweiss commissioner but was speaking as a private citizen.
Borelli and Koziell said the town’s zoning ordinance is stricter in Eidelweiss than the rest of the town because the lots are small. But they noted that it still prohibits STRS in residential areas of Madison.
“The way both ordinances are written, the law states that you have the right to stop it,” said Borelli.
“Residential zones are not considered a place of business. In fact, when I was in front of the planning board, and I asked if I would come to you as a builder, and have to put up a motel in any residential zone in Madison, will you allow me to? And they said no.
“That’s no different than a short-term rental,” he said. Madison is home to about 160 short-term rentals, according to Host Compliance.
Borelli believes STRs will strain the town’s resources and taxes will increase. He predicts STRs will raise home values to the point that longtime residents will be driven out.
Borelli and Koziell supported their argument with a six-page legal opinion based on the New Hampshire Supreme Court case Working Stiff Partners v City of Portsmouth as well as a recent victory by the Kearsarge Lighting Precinct against short-term rental owners who sued the precinct.
Borelli explained they asked for and received the opinion from their neighbor who they said is a retired lawyer.
Selectmen in September said they plan to ask voters at town meeting in March whether they want to pursue regulations on short-term rentals. If they do, the regulations would be presented as soon as 2023.
Borelli asked selectmen to propose a warrant article to change the definition of “dwelling unit” to exclude short-term rentals, or he would petition a warrant article to do that.
His proposed definition would prohibit overnight or short-term lodging based on a daily charge.
Of the warrant articles, Koziell said: “We plan on creating a petitioned article, and it’s basically just going to be that the voters are asking the selectmen to enforce the ordinance.
They also considered “maybe taking the ordinances and tightening up the language a little bit, so that there’s a more clear definition of what is a short-term rental,” she said.
Selectmen’s chair Bill Lord said it wouldn’t be necessary for residents to petition selectmen to enforce existing ordinances. Later on, he said there were some pieces of the short-term rental issue the town can enforce now because it has contracted with a company to inventory STRs.
“We can send code enforcement to say, ‘OK, you can’t advertise 17 people in a two-bedroom short-term rental because the septic was not designed for that, by approval of state Department of Environmental Services,” said Lord. “So we can kind of fight on those things.”
Selectman Michael Mauro said if the town votes that it wants enforcement on STRs, the ordinance would have to be changed.
Resident Shawn Bergeron, a code and land use expert, said the town would have a difficult time enforcing current zoning against short-term rentals because of a lack of definitions.
“Our ordinance has no method or mechanism within it to go after short-term rentals,” said Bergeron.
“If we go after short-term rentals, based on what we have right now, we’re going to be in one heck of a mess. ... The legal costs are going to be ridiculous and nobody is going to win.”
He said the KLP and City of Portsmouth have much better ordinances than Madison.
Bergeron asked selectmen about the board’s plan to ask voters about STRs in March.
Lord said the town’s legal counsel is looking at how to phrase such an article, and Selectman Josh Shackford said it will be a ballot question on its own.
Lord said it’s up to the planning board to look into new definitions, noting, “Mr. Bergeron started a great dialogue with the planning board to try to codify some of these definitions that are have been loosey-goosey.”
Lord added that he liked the “dwelling unit” definition Borelli and Koziell suggested. “But that will be under the purview of the planning board,” he said.
Resident Dirk Landis, who said he owns property that could be considered a short-term rental, agreed that the term needs to be defined.
He said his summer property has been rented every summer to a couple of tenants. One person rents it for a week and the other for a month.
Landis said a college student living with his or her parents for the summer and paying rent could be considered a short-term renter, but Koziell said they wouldn’t because Landis wouldn’t charge his son $127 per night.
“I might charge him by the minute,” said Landis, who got laughs from meeting attendees.