By Curt Peterson
On June 2, Dave McComb, representing a group called Concerned Killington Taxpayers Association, LLC presented the Select Board with a petition requesting a popular vote for approval of proposed amendments to Killington’s zoning ordinances that would require registration of short-term rental (STR) properties.
After consulting the town’s attorney, Killington selectmen agreed to put the amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot, saying it was too late to be warned for the August primary.
Killington, like several Vermont towns, has a growing number of short-term rentals, defined as properties rented for less than 30 days at a time and for more than 14 days in a year.
Killington has 931 STRs according to Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow, one-third to one-half of them condominiums.
STRs must register with the state and pay meals and rooms tax. Now the town of Killington would like STR owners to register with the town as well — and to certify that their rental complies with existing regulations on capacity.
Complaints come from neighbors, the fire department, police department and health officials and include over-occupancy, vehicles blocking fire and emergency access, septic system failures, and noisy late-night partying.
McComb, however, called the proposed zoning changes “a knee-jerk reaction to one problem house.”
“[Petitioners] are not against short-term rental regulations,” McComb wrote in a letter. “We are against ‘this version’ of the short-term rental regulations and the questionable process that was followed in drafting these amendments. Luckily, as a result of the petition, all town residents can now decide for themselves if these amendments are in the best interest of the town.”
About 90 signatories were represented, more than twice the 5% of 820 Killington residents that is required to qualify a petition. However, about 20 of those have since rescinded their name or been disqualified as petitioners must be primary residents of Killington.
Petitioners’ objections include “requiring registration, copies of permits, proof of liability insurance, an annual fee, and hiring an expensive outside monitoring firm to monitor for compliance,” McComb explained. “There was no proposal for an educational campaign, homeowner outreach or even the simple act of enforcing existing local and state regulations,” he said.
Selectman Jim Haff said the process of registration was intended to be the educational campaign. “All the paperwork is at the town offices and we were going to work with owners to calculate what their existing permits allow for occupancy,” he said.
Killington Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth said the objective of the registry process is to ensure health and safety regulations that already exist can be enforced. Fire safety and sewer and water regulations are state statutes, for example, require permits and can be enforced by the state, he has pointed out.
“There are no new regulations, just a mechanism necessary to enforce ordinances already on the books,” he said.
The selectmen endorsed enforcing existing regulations for the time being as the registration proposal is held up until the vote. Hagenbarth is expected to sign a contract with LodgingRevs, a verification firm that will identify STRs on various rental platforms, including advertised occupancies.
Bristow told Mountain Times, “Critics are always saying, ‘Why don’t you enforce the laws you already have?’ and that’s what we’re going to do.”
There is no mention in the current amendment of a fee to obtain the STR registration permit or the specific documents that would need to be presented. The Select Board has asked the town manager to bring into a future meeting the division of fire safety, ANR for septic, and other agencies to discuss the process and documents that might be required.
“If and when the amendment is approved by the voters,” Haff told Mountain Times, “we will hold open meetings to consider any registration documents and fees.”
Annual fees from $150 to $200 per unit have been mentioned during two open planning commission hearings, and two open Select Board hearings when the proposed amendment was discussed.
“[The] Select Board voted … to begin enforcing the existing zoning rules on short-term rentals of two occupants per bedroom, disallowing the additional plus-two that they had all previously decided upon to be reasonable,” McComb wrote.
A “plus-two” option, would allow a residence permitted for two occupants per bedroom to have two additional people — a three-bedroom home is permitted for six but could host eight with the “plus two,” for example.
“The additional occupancy is already included in most condo owners’ ACT 250 permits,” Haff said. “The Select Board had wanted to add the plus-two but now we have to go with the existing regulations, which says only two occupants per bedroom.”
Town leaders say about half of the STR owners live out of state. In order to vote on the zoning amendment issue, those STR owners would have to declare Killington as their primary residency, which would then make them ineligible to vote elsewhere and change their dwelling status to a homestead property —which, in Killington, means a higher property tax rate.
Hagenbarth said, in the interest of full transparency, all out-of-state owners should know that up-front so they can make the best choice for their own situation.