By Katy Savage and Polly Mikula
Killington’s attempt to codify existing zoning regulations for short-term rentals has hit a snag.
A group that calls itself the Concerned Killington Taxpayers Association, LLC, filed a petition on May 26 to put the question of amending the zoning bylaws to voters, instead of letting the Select Board decide.
A total of 90 people signed the petition — 69 of whom were confirmed registered voters in Killington.
At the Select Board meeting on June 2, Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth reminded non-residents that changing residential status in order to vote in the proposed election on this issue would require the town clerk to notify the resident’s former town/state of this change for other future elections; and that the listers be required to notify the state of Vermont regarding a revision to homestead/school tax status. Unlike in most towns, the homestead tax in Killington is higher than the non-homestead tax.
The petition was filed in response to zoning bylaws the Select Board approved May 5, which were set to go into effect May 25, but because of the holiday weekend the Select Board allowed the petition to be submitted the following day, Tuesday, May 26. The proposed bylaws would have permitted two per bedroom plus two for short-term rental owners for wastewater permits, plus fire safety rules would need to be certified through registering rental properties.
Under existing zoning regulations short-term rental properties are limited to two people per bedroom with no registration. The Planning Commission, with the Select Board’s support, allow for an additional two occupants on top of that capacity to address those that have bunkbeds and/or pullout couches, Hagenbarth noted.
“Technically it’s a violation of wastewater but it doesn’t happen every time, so it’s not a critical concern,” Hagenbarth said in an interview with Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA) Executive Director Mike Coppinger, May 21. “But we do need to get this under control because right now we have three-bedroom houses listed as six-bedroom houses that sleep 25.”
The Planning Commission began discussing amending the zoning bylaws last year in response to one particular property owner that was renting his home to up to more than two dozen people at a time in a residential area. The Planning Commission approved the bylaws in January and sent them to the Select Board for approval.
If a short-term rental home exceeds 16 people, the property is classified as a hotel, according to the bylaws, and as such are permitted only in zoning districts that allow hotels and lodges.
“As soon as you get past 16 you meet the hotel designation when it comes to Division of Fire Safety and you might have to put in sprinklers and all kinds of fun stuff,” Hagenbarth explained. “It is about health and safety,” he added.
“It’s really about protecting everybody and making it much simpler for the town to be able to educate, enforce and monitor existing regulations,” Hagenbarth said.
Killington has an estimated 930 short-term rental properties — one of the most in the state.
“We need a registration process in town,” Select Board member Jim Haff said. “People talk about not knowing all the rules and regulations.”
“These are not new regulations,” Haff said, echoing Hagenbarth. “We’re just trying to create an easy and efficient system to enforce what’s always existed. Look, we can do this two ways: with the existing zoning regulations as they are we can cite homeowners for non-compliance and fine them $200 per day as we’re doing with one individual, but that battle has been in court for 18 months— it’s costly and less effective. The other way, what our legal council advised, is the nicer and easier way: that is to have homeowners come in and self-certify that they’re in compliance with all the necessary and existing regulations for short-term rentals — that’s the path we think is smartest for everyone, especially the Killington taxpayers as it’s much cheaper than court battles.”
The Select Board had initially discussed setting a registration fee of $200 per property per year to cover the cost of administering the program and enforcing the existing regulation, but that fee is not set.
Three companies had been interviewed to assist in the compliance monitoring procedures. However, with the Rental Registration Program now in limbo and the ability to finance this assistance, a modified version of their programs would be required for the interim, the board concluded at the meeting June 2. A motion to accept Hagenbarth’s and the Zoning Administrator’s recommendation to accept the LODGINGRevs proposal was approved unanimously. LODGINGRevs is a software company based in Durango, Colorado. The approved fee for a limited service to identify properties out of compliance only is $11,000 for a year. The full service estimate was $35,000 for a year.
The process for registration is quite simple, Hagenbarth said, “All homeowners will have to do is come in, sign a permit and basically what they’re doing is agreeing to the occupancy that’s allowed per all of their permits.”
Short-term rentals with fewer than eight people can self-certify compliance for all required permits. Rentals with 8-16 people will have to certify that they meet all zoning and other state requirements, including Division of Fire Safety regulations, parking, etc. Those with over 16 people will need to meet additional zoning and state requirements consistent with regulations for hotels and lodges.
Short-term rental capacity is determined by a number of factors including wastewater and number of bedrooms. If the existing wastewater permit allows for four bedrooms then that home’s wastewater capacity is for eight people. However, town zoning has always just allowed just two people per bedroom. So if that same home had just three bedrooms, it would be limited to 6 renters — plus two with the planning commission allowance to give it a maximum of eight tenants. Condominium complexes already have a permitted occupancy limit according to their specific Act 250 permit.
“The goal is then to work with each homeowner to say: your fire safety allows for this, your wastewater allows for this and zoning says this and the homeowner fills out the document and agrees that the permits allow for a set capacity for that dwelling,” Hagenbarth explained. “If you look at the permit, it’s really very simple, there are five boxes that remind you of the existing regulations.”
In previous public hearings, several property owners were concerned the amendments would devalue their property, limit their earning potential and create unnecessary oversight and new regulations.
David McComb, who filed the petition on behalf of the group, called the registration process “costly and over-burdening,” at a meeting last November.
Attempts to reach McComb for a phone interview weren’t successful.
But the language in the zoning bylaws isn’t new; it just hasn’t been enforced in the past.
Hagenbarth said the vote (as a result of the petition) will likely take place in November. The date will be set after the town attorney reviews the petition. Until then, the current zoning bylaws are in place.
“I’m hoping the people who voted the Select Board in will vote in favor of what the Select Board is suggesting,” Haff said.
A motion that the town manager and the zoning administrator begin exploring and sending letters to anyone currently under violation was approved unanimously at the June 2 Select Board meeting. As of June 16, no letter had yet been sent. It could take weeks for the town working with LODGINGRevs to identifiy properties and then for the town to determine their violation and send out letters accordingly, Haff said.