To rent or not to rent? Stonington homeowners weigh in on Airbnb debate

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STONINGTON -- People in Stonington sounded off Tuesday night about vacation rentals in the area after learning a popular rental service is technically illegal in town.

Airbnb and VRBO are some of the websites that make it easy for homeowners to rent their property to visitors for a short period of time.

A handful of recent complaints to Stonington's Planning and Zoning Board brought to its attention that rentals less than 30 days are against town regulations, which date back to the 1960s.

"When the regulations were written years and years ago it didn't anticipate marketing a platform like airbnb or vrbo," Stonington Economic Development Commission Chair Dave Hammond said.

Hammond said when complaints came in, homeowners were issued a notice of violation but no further enforcement was taken.

"The website doesn't prevent anybody from using it so than it just depends on our zoning regulations how they might or might not get enforced and right now the regulation is not that strong because this is so new," he said.

While Hammond said it's not the job of the EDC to take a side, it's important to figure out what is the best move for the residents and Stonington itself, which thrives on tourism.

There have been a handful of complaints, but not nearly as many complaints as there are rentals, according to Hammond.

"It's an aspect of society that's just not going to go away, it's going to be here so what I hope for Stonington is we figure out a way to deal with it," he said.

That's what Tuesday night's meeting was all about: hearing the community out in order to appropriately change the regulations for the future.

Some people spoke out against Airbnb and rentals, saying renters can be rowdy, and create issues including unnecessary noise and parking issues in their quiet communities.

One homeowner spoke of rental properties bringing down the value of his home, while another spoke of safety.

"Neighborhood patterns aren't settled when your neighbors aren't permanent," a neighbor said.

The majority of those at the meeting spoke in favor of the opportunity to rent homes.

"It's great that all these people come into town and spend their money here, its great for the local economy," local homeowner Michael Mccue said.

Mccue doesn't rent his Stonington property but has successfully used Airbnb for trips he's taken outside of Connecticut.

The Stonington Short Term Rental Association, a group of 43 homeowners, has been created to work with the town and neighbors to create solutions to concerns and strategies to move forward.

A decision was not made at Tuesday's meeting. The planning and zoning commission will take back comments in an effort to work on rewriting regulations.