LETTER: Reaction to the City Council’s Decision to Reject Short Term Rentals

Print More

Dear Editor and Residents,

Last week, a proposal to regulate Short Term Rentals (STRs) went before the City Council. It was rejected 6-3. 

Now, the city attorney has been asked to draft a proposal to ban STRs. So it would seem this is moot. I went to the meeting advocating for the regulation, hoping that the councilors would deliberate and amend the imperfections away. I advocated for the regulation because STRs serve a different market, and the supplier is different from other small service providers, such as landlords, bed & breakfasts or home offices. The supplier is a resident who needs a very low barrier to entry. He/she is trying to age in place, has a variable income or has experienced a sudden price hike or loss of income. The demand comes from those who need an affordable place to stay for less than 30 days. They come here to see a graduation or medical care professional, attend a wedding or funeral, to see off a deployed family member, to provide palliative care, or clear out the estate of a loved one. And yes, they come for the Marathon, the regatta, playoffs and concerts.

I understand why councilors voted against the regulation. The objections were all reasonable and included: it does not comply with current code, it is too wide in scope and vacation home owners don’t need the income. However, I was hoping there’d be deliberation to address those objections. I do want to thank the three councilors who were hoping for the same. I want to recognize Councilor Caroline Bays for continually asking for amendments to improve the regulation, and for her gumption for voting for the less-than-perfect regulation. I want to recognize Councilor Nicole Gardner for astutely slicing and dicing the regulation to make it better, and for her discernment for red herrings. Both councilors spoke on behalf of constituents who couldn’t attend, didn’t want to speak publicly or send in a document for the public record. This legitimate mode of expression affords those without large amounts of time and those who still want a modicum of privacy opportunity to participate. It shouldn’t be disparaged. Instead people should understand why time isn’t available or why privacy is a concern.

Last but not least, I want to thank Councilor Lisa Feltner who gave heart-felt testimony on behalf of her constituents. She clearly understood why constituents sought her out. Councilor Lisa Feltner also brought up a point that may have been missed by many. Some people use STRs to visit a Boston medical facility and require affordable lodging that is specially equipped for those who are not as ambulatory. In terms of lodging, this is a rarity and the cost conscious supplier may also be in the same situation. Like I said, these markets and suppliers are different, and sometimes the participants are those on the margins. Watertown is civic-minded, but if Watertown is anything it is a place where those on the margins are recognized.

Rita Colafella
Watertown Resident

11 thoughts on “LETTER: Reaction to the City Council’s Decision to Reject Short Term Rentals

  1. Common sense restrictions? What does that mean? Who determines what is common sense? What constitutes common sense?

    • Common sense, in this case, would balance the desires of homeowners to use their property to provide STR opportunities with the desires of neighbors to have a peaceful and pleasant place to live. This is what government deals with all the time when doing planning and zoning. Fortunately, Watertown has a City Manager with extensive experience in this area!

  2. I agree with you, Rita. There was room for amending this bill to accommodate gray areas if they had wanted to do the work. I also appreciated those Councilors who spoke up for considering nuances. The vote against all rentals felt knee-jerk and lazy.

  3. Here in Watertown, we have a 1950’s crowd who wants to restrict how YOU live your life. Thank you, Rita, for writing to support short-term rentals. As I learned at the Planning Board meeting where this proposal was debated and ultimately recommended to the City Council, the proposed regulation was tailored very narrowly to meet the concerns of neighbors. For one thing, only a primary resident could rent out their home, and then only for 3 months of the year. So there would be no investor-owned year-round Air BnBs (I would reject those).

    I understand the concerns of residents who have experienced noise and disruption from neighboring home shares. These incidents represent a very small minority of home shares, as most home shares occur without disturbing neighbors. A regulation would have allowed a path to address those circumstances when they occur.

    However – some residents at the Planning Board meeting were complaining merely about “extra cars” parked on a their street. For goodness sake, no resident has a “right” to having zero cars parked on a *public* street where they live…. or only the cars of people they “want” to come into their neighborhood. Other people get to live their lives too!

    Just as one can’t restrict how many guests your neighbors have over to their house, we should not be restricting homeowners from having paying guests at their home in this modern age. One resident at the Planning Board meeting rose to give the comment that he didn’t understand what the “benefit” of AirBnB was in the first place. Yes, this person clearly doesn’t understand modern life. Sir – I have an answer for you: it benefits someone else. Some people are so selfish here, they see only themselves instead of our whole community.

    • I believe that this issue can be debated without slandering one’s neighbors. 1950’s crowd. . .didn’t understand modern life. . .it’s all a lot of name calling meant to deflect from the issues.

      I think that the pivotal issue here is the town’s ability to enforce the codes already on the books. It’s a well known secret that one doesn’t have to pull building permits or even hire licensed contractors to do major work in our town. Many other regulations similarly go unenforced.,

      I would favor STR’s with restrictions and regulations, if those regulations can be enforced. But the town has admitted it can’t handle that.

      We must also make sure that STR’s don’t deplete available long term rentals.

      But please, we can debate this issue without mocking our neighbors.

  4. I agree 100% with this letter. WIth resonable changes, the ordinance could have worked. WOw what a reasonable suggestion. I did also watch the recording of the video last week during my night shift. There were very few reasonable people there. Some guys ranting about Mexicans and another woman proudly calling hersel a NIMBY. You think there were placing a prison for serial killers in town.
    As for enforcement, you call up the appropriate department and give address. I mean you have a “neigborhood watch” and people now have RING doorbells with cameras. I know people make calls about car parked overnight and fireworks durng the summer, so no biggie if it is that impotatn to you.
    Now that enforment is out of the argument, here’s something that I noticed. The same people calling for the ban of Short Term Rentals because they look out for the neighborhood and their negihbors, were they same people against enforcing the snow shoveling ordiancne. It is on the books, and these people couldn’t be bother to lookout for their negihbor then. I gues if you fall or get hit by a car in the street becasue the sidewalk is full of snow, then toough nuggies. It would seem that these people are more than a bit self-absorded, no?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *