Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2020 9:02:22 PM
Modified: 4/5/2020 9:09:47 PM

HANOVER — Town officials say it’s time to lift Hanover’s three-decade-old ban on short-term housing rentals and instead implement rules to limit the practice.

The Hanover Planning Board voted, 6-1, last week to recommend a zoning amendment that would allow some property owners to rent out their homes and spare bedrooms for up to month-long stays, including through websites like Airbnb.

The rules, which were crafted after a series of meetings and listening sessions, must be approved by voters at Town Meeting later this spring.

Planning Board member Brian Edwards said the proposal seeks to strike a balance between homeowners needing rental income and those who worry that the short-term rental market could drastically change Hanover’s neighborhoods and hurt traditional renters.

“We have striven, as you know, to approach this problem in a sort of incremental way, recognizing that it is politically divisive,” he said during the meeting, which was held via teleconference.

Hanover banned short-term rentals 33 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped some property owners from listing rooms on Airbnb and other websites.

Planning Director Rob Houseman found earlier this year that one property netted $216,000 in rental and cleaning fees after being rented for 67 days last year.

Four other properties in town grossed more than $100,000 apiece, he told the Planning Board.

New rules would allow for “hosted” rentals, where the owner is present, in most areas outside of downtown after the property is registered with the town.

Un-hosted short-term rentals would require a special exception issued by the Zoning Board, athough they would be allowed right around Goose Pond and in the Forestry and Recreation zoning districts.

Guests would be allowed to stay for only 30 days, and owners would be able to rent a room for only 90 days a year. Short-term rentals would also be banned in “investor-owned” properties.

While only four people spoke during Tuesday’s teleconference hearing, 17 residents wrote letters either supporting or opposing the rule change.

Short-term rentals don’t help local communities because those who profit normally don’t live in town year-round, wrote Sukdith Punjasthitkul.

“These amendment changes will only benefit the 1% in Hanover, those who rent out entire buildings and/or own multiple dwellings in town, especially the downtown and adjacent zones (of which I live in),” Punjasthitkul said.

However, Christian Passow supported the proposal, saying it would benefit those needing a second income and visitors either working at nearby Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center or being treated there.

“Many of these people are of limited means and yet often need to stay for extended and unpredictable periods,” he wrote. “Making short-term rentals available to these people can give them an alternative that is likely less expensive than hotels and, at the same, in the case of hosted rentals, perhaps more personal.”

Planning Board members also questioned the rules and how they would be enforced. Houseman, the planning director, said the Hanover Selctboard would need to adopt a rental housing enforcement program in conjunction with a Town Meeting vote.

That worried Planning Board member Iain Sim, who said the Selectboard has “watered down” past regulations recommended by planners.

“What we’re doing now is committing ourselves to a short-term rental zoning amendment without knowing if this, in fact, will have any enforcement teeth in it,” he said.

But board member April Salas countered that the town is responsible for enforcing violations. She added the rules are a compromise, crafted with copious public input.

“I think the upside of allowing people into our community — creating a non-onerous way for them to be compliant with regulations as well as the benefits of being able to stay in their home and offset taxes — offset the potential harms,” she said.

Voters will decide the fate of the short-term rental rules at Town Meeting, which will likely be postponed to June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tim Camerato can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.