MADISON — Selectmen decided Tuesday they will start enforcement against 14 short-term properties.
Voters last March passed the Madison Planning Board’s Article 6, which said a dwelling unit can’t be used for transients and which town officials said effectively banned STRs. Since then, the planning board has worked to get an article on the warrant next year to legalize and regulate STRs.
In early October, selectmen’s chair Josh Shackford said he wanted to send out warning letters to owners of STRs created since the March vote and those that cause disturbances. He reasoned the town couldn’t possibly fight the owners of all the STRs at once.
Late last year, selectmen had sent cease-and-desist letters to STR owners in the Eidelweiss Residential District, but backtracked in February.
On Tuesday, the board again had to decide on sending letters to STR owners. Selectman John Arruda said the town was starting with STRs in Eidelweiss Residential District and those created since March.
“We’re starting with about 15,” said Arruda. “Our attorney has advised us not too much beyond 15 because that would overwhelm the ZBA.”
Town Administrator Linda Shackford said the letters were evenly split between Eidelweiss and the other parts of town. She said there were 14 properties and 15 different owners.
Later in the meeting, Arruda clarified that more letters would go out as time goes on.
Arruda said the first round of letters would be going out as soon as possible. Shackford read letters aloud. The letters for Eidelweiss owners and those in other parts of town are similar but have some differences because the regulations are different in Eidelweiss than the other residential areas in town.
“Madison zoning ordinance section (4.6 A) states that the Eidelweiss district is primarily a district of single-family residences and accessory buildings. With the only other written uses being home occupations, churches and public buildings, business, commercial enterprises and agricultural uses are prohibited,” said the letter, as read by Shackford. “A building used primarily or exclusively as a short-term rental is not a residence because no one resides there and it does not qualify as one of the other uses permitted in the district.
“Rather, it has been used as a commercial enterprise which is expressly prohibited by the ordinance and therefore appears a property is in violation of the town’s zoning ordinance.”
The letter aimed at owners in the Rural Residential and Village Districts says that under sections 4.2 and 4.4 of the Madison Zoning Ordinance property there can can only be used as “single family homes and certain other uses that do not apply.”
“The March 2022 the voters amended the zoning ordinance to make it clear that a house that is primarily rented to guests on a short term basis rather than than uses a residence does not meet the definition of a single family house,” said the second letter as read by Shackford. “Since it appears that your short term rental use was established after the ordinance was amended the use is not permitted.”
The letter to owners in the Rural Residential and Village Districts goes on to say that owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast type facilities are allowed by special exception.
Both letters ask owners to give their voluntary compliance. Both say that violations can be subject to civil penalties of $275 per day.
Shackford got some laughs from the audience when reading with emphasis that the letter was signed Robert Boyd, the code enforcement officer.
The joke seemed to be Boyd, not Shackford and selectmen, would be fielding phone calls from the owners
Shackford made a motion to send out the letters to the owners of 14 selected STR properties, and it passed 3-0. The other selectman voting in favor with Shackford and Arruda was Michael A. Mauro.
A reporter asked how the 15 properties were selected, and Arruda said it was strictly random” and that the number of STRs is at nearly 200.
“So, we have a lot to pick from,” said Arruda. “I don’t even know who these people are.”
In other selectmen’s news:
• Shackford attended a “Snow Fighters” class in Gilford about winter road maintenance recently. He was taught that sand is “useless on paved roads 99 percent of the time” and “the only reason you put sand on a paved road is for peace of mind for the traveling public.” What’s more, he learned that the brine the town had been using to save money on salt turns out to be a “waste of money” since the pH and temperature has to be just right to be effective.
• Police Chief Bob King said there’s been a rash of “political sign vandalizing and thievery going on all over town.” One incidence of someone caught on camera plucking a sign and throwing it on the ground will be referred to the Attorney Generals Office. Other incidences — of signs spray-painted with graffiti — will be prosecuted locally.
He said that the AG’s Office investigates sign removals and can issue a $1,000 fine. If police catch someone spray-painting a sign, that’s an arrestable offense of criminal mischief and the possible fine could be $1,200.