Chester begins forming housing commission

CHESTER, Vt. – Tackling Chester’s housing problems was on everyone’s minds at the May 17 meeting of the Chester Selectboard.

Chester, Vt.

During the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, Chester resident Kathy Guirtino expressed her concern about the growing number of “unhosted” short-term rentals (STR) in Chester – that is, STRs where there are no full-time residents, and instead only an empty house which is occasionally occupied by renters. “I think that it’s important that we act soon to put a cap on the number of unhosted short-term rentals,” Guirtino expressed to the board. “The unhosted [rentals] are just an empty house taking away from a neighborhood…and the community in general.” She suggested putting a moratorium on new STRs in Chester, as she said has been done in Morristown, which would allow those already-existing STRs to continue to operate, but would not allow any more to be set up in the town. This, Guirtino suggested, would give Chester time to finish its STR survey, and form its housing commission, while curtailing the ever-growing number of STRs and dwindling housing for locals. “I may not have neighbors pretty soon,” Guirtino told the board, “I may just have a lot of empty houses with strangers coming and going.”

Selectboard Chair Arne Jonynas replied to Guirtino, saying that once the housing survey is completed, the board will have a “clearer picture of what we have in this town as far as hosted and unhosted [rentals],” and that at that point, the board will “revisit [the] discussion as far as what action to take, if any.”

The board then heard from George Legace, Vice President of Ruck Up, Inc., an all-volunteer, local veteran advocacy group, concerning their coin drop application. In approving the application, Jonynas noted, “The fact that it’s local is very important, it’s helping people in our community…I think that means a lot to people when they support something like this.” This will be the second of Chester’s two coin drops approved annually, scheduled for Aug. 19, with a rain date of Aug. 20.

Turning again to housing, Town Manager Julie Hance sought the board’s permission to begin forming a housing commission, to “start really looking at and addressing housing in [the] area.” Hance presented the board with a draft of a housing commission charter for their consideration, which they will look over before the next meeting. “What I really was hoping to get from the board tonight is the authority to go ahead and start advertising for commissioners,” Hance told the board, noting that it would be several months before the commission was fully staffed and ready to begin its work.

The housing commission would first be tasked with gathering information and data about housing in Chester, as well as performing new surveys to fill any gaps in information, in order to asses housing needs. “At the end of the day,” Hance said, “[the housing commission] is not going to be developing housing.” However, she said, their role would be discussion, planning, data collection, and project management, as well as outreach to and meetings with voters, whose input will be necessary for many decisions going forward.

The board was supportive of the effort, and gave Hance approval to begin the process of finding and choosing commissioners. The board will review the draft charter they were given, and return at the next meeting with any changes or revisions they wish to discuss.

The Chester Selectboard’s next meeting will be Wednesday, May 31, at 6:30 p.m.

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