BERLIN – Officials renewed discussion of a short-term rental ordinance this week.
The Berlin Town Council reviewed a draft short-term rental ordinance and heard concerns from residents this week. A handful of people shared experiences they’ve had with short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.
“I’ve seen the problems,” said resident Ron Cascio, a member of the Berlin Planning Commission. “They’ve just begun. I think we have to nip this in the bud before it becomes a proliferation of this stuff.”
Planning Director Dave Engelhart kicked off the discussion with a review of the draft ordinance the council initially looked at in June, which allows short-term rentals in most districts but requires that rentals in the R-1 and R-2 district are in a property owner’s permanent dwelling per the State Department of Assessment and Taxation. He included recommendations of possible adjustments based on the June discussion. Those changes could include the posting of a license inside and outside the unit, a requirement of 70 square feet of floor space for one occupant or 40 square feet per occupant if more than one. He also said the ordinance could require one additional off-street parking space for each bedroom rented.
“These are more like recommendations or suggestions that were created by your discussion in June,” he said.
When asked about zoning districts short-term rentals would be permitted in, Engelhart said they would be permitted in R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4 and B-1, B-2, and B-3 but that the R-1 and R-2 rentals had to be in homes defined as the property owner’s permanent residence.
“You couldn’t go in and buy six houses on the same street and operate them all as short-term rentals,” he said. “That was seen as a protective element for the single-family districts.”
Councilman Jack Orris said he’d talked to residents who thought there should be restrictions on short-term rentals while he’d talked to others who thought they shouldn’t be permitted at all. Councilman Troy Purnell said he still wanted to hear from more residents about what they thought.
“Honestly when I saw this on the agenda for the evening I thought it was going to be a discussion of mainly the public,” he said.
Though there weren’t many present, the citizens who were in attendance shared their thoughts. Resident Marie Velong said she worried that the fact that violations of the proposed ordinance would be complaint driven would cause hard feelings among neighbors. Police Chief Arnold Downing, however, reminded citizens that complaints could be made anonymously.
Resident Laura Stearns, a member of the town’s parks commission and historic district commission, submitted a letter in support of restrictions on short-term rentals.
“Over the course of the years as Berlin has become so cool a little bit of the sleepy town it once was has been chipped away,” her letter read. “It seems the cooler the town becomes the less peaceful. I wouldn’t want to live next door to a property that has been rented out to people who are in town to party.”
She added that the Coastal Association of Realtors had sent out a mass mailing advocating for the town to allow short-term rentals.
“This should be a red flag to all residents,” she wrote. “The Coastal Association of Realtors are not thinking of the residents of this town who have to live next door to these businesses. They are not interested in the quality of life of residents. “
She said short-term rentals were businesses and shouldn’t be in residential districts.
Cascio agreed. He said he’d seen short-term rentals hurt Lewes.
“Those poor folks are moving out in droves simply because of short-term rentals,” he said.
He added that he’d seen a short-term rental on South Main Street with string lights in the yard and televisions on and noise coming from the house at 4 a.m.
“It seems to me more like a bar than a residential use,” he said.
Cascio added that allowing people to use accessory dwellings might be preferable to whole-house short-term rentals, since the property owner would be on site in that scenario.
Resident Ed Hammond, who lives part of the year in Texas, said he’d seen his neighborhood there impacted by Airbnbs. He said he thought the town was on the right track by creating an ordinance regarding short-term rentals.
“If you give over good residential to this sort of use you’re destroying the fabric of your community,” he said.
Resident Anne Marie Pollack told the council her neighborhood had had problems with a family staying in a bus they were in the process of converting to a trailer. She said that because of a short-term rental next door, her elderly neighbors had stopped using their patio because there were new residents coming in every week.
“Just having people you don’t know checking in every weekend right in your backyard is not what a neighborhood is to me,” she said.
Mayor Zack Tyndall asked councilmembers to share any input on the proposed ordinance in the coming weeks as it moves closer to formal introduction.