The proliferation of short-term rentals once again dominated much of the Middletown Town Council meeting on Jan. 3. After a long discussion prompted by a communication from resident John Bagwill, the council made a unanimous motion to direct the Planning Board to seek further information from other communities to determine how to regulate short-term rentals.
“We have gone round and round with this,” said Council President Paul Rodrigues. “I have been surrounded by [short-term rentals]. It’s a great neighborhood. It’s not just a neighborhood anymore.”
Bagwill, who has served the town in several capacities in the past, urged the council to address the growth of short-term rentals.
Councilor Christopher Logan asked about enforcement changes that were made last year, and said he was “extremely concerned” about incidents that have been reported. “I want details. Is there a problem? Is there not a problem?” he said.
“It doesn’t feel right to me to see all these short-term rentals pop up in the midst of a housing crisis,” said councilor Emily Tessier, who added that she cannot afford to buy a home on the island, a situation that has caused nearly all of her friends to seek housing off island.
The most compelling testimony came from resident Kathleen Schafer, who told a story of an apparently intoxicated man who had entered her home by mistake, thinking it was his next-door rental.
“We put up with this all the time. It scares me to death,” she said. “We should not have to deal with this.”
Bagwill pointed out that Newport recently passed an ordinance preventing short-term rentals in some residential areas. “Middletown has not addressed this area as to what to do with short-term rentals, so, as a result, we have opened up the doors,” he said. “The key thing is that the Planning Board presents you with evidence.”
Other members of the public weighed in:
“I want neighbors, not customers,” said Rob Connerney, a refrain that others repeated throughout the hearing. “The people who live here care about the community and that’s what you want.”
Paul Croce, Planning Board chair, also spoke in support of Bagwill’s proposal. “Mr. Bagwill’s approach seems very reasonable,” he said. “This is a good time to do it. In the next few months, the board will be drafting the next version of the town’s comprehensive plan.”
Croce suggested that town planner Ron Wolanski approach other communities to research what they are doing.
“Maybe he will instruct you to hire a consultant, but there may be cost involved,” he said.
Croce said the Planning Board is requesting a meeting with the Town Council to make sure “we are aligned with your plans.” In other matters: *The council was perplexed by a memo from Supt. Rosemarie Kraeger regarding $200,000 that was allocated to sports and arts to buy equipment. The detailed list seemed to show a $55,000 gap and the possibility of spending beyond the $200,000 that was originally committed.
“The initial list [of what they were going to buy] was a lot longer than what was provided tonight,” said Rodrigues. “This doesn’t balance with all the requests we got from them. We need further clarification on this, on whether the additional $55,000 is going to be spent or not.”