Ludlow Town Rental Registry to move forward; Town Charter and Okemo also discussed

Following their March 7 meeting, the Ludlow Selectboard is creating a committee to discuss a town rental registry. Photo provided

LUDLOW, Vt. – Following a quick Ludlow Town Charter informational meeting on March 7, the Ludlow Selectboard held their regular monthly meeting and agreed to move forward toward a town rental registry, which may include both short-term and long-term rentals, as a way to curtail safety violations. Municipal Manager Scott Murphy also addressed recent traffic concerns surrounding Okemo Mountain Resort.

A public hearing on whether to approve a public town charter preceded the Selectboard meeting, but lasted only two minutes with no questions from the public. In this first of two public hearings, Municipal Manager Scott Murphy outlined the proposed Ludlow town charter, which includes only one issue – whether or not to grant the Ludlow Selectboard authority to employ Australian ballot other than when required by the State. Currently, Ludlow voters have chosen to vote publicly on the floor. The Board has suggested that some votes may be more appropriate by Australian ballot. For the Board to acquire the authority to choose, voters will need to approve the proposed charter, which would then go before the Vermont Legislature for approval next year. The next public hearing on the town charter will take place during Ludlow’s rescheduled Town Meeting on April 4, just prior to election on April 5.

Ludlow Zoning Director Rose Goings and Ludlow Fire Chief Pete Kolenda presented before the Board, requesting the institution of a short-term rental registry in order to address safety concerns among rental properties, specifically, too many bedrooms, too many people in a house, and illegal housing units. “Our biggest concern has always been, from day one, safety,” said Goings.

Goings shared a short-term registry recently adopted in Plymouth as an example for the town: Rental owners would pay fees depending on their rental capacity and work with the fire marshal to address safety violations. Plymouth also charges fines for parking, noise, and excessive guests.

Goings spoke to proposed legislation in the Vermont State House S210, which is slated to address the issue on rentals. She said that the state would do inspections and enforcement on rentals, but if the town established a rental registry, control would fall to the town.

Kolenda added that the division of fire safety has jurisdiction over any type of rentals, but that it’s hard to get a total grasp on everything without a registry. As an example, he referred to an illegal one-bedroom studio apartment that had been built in a carriage shed next to a house. He said that if the town wasn’t aware of the situation, then when responding to a fire, that could result in a tragedy.

Ludlow State Representative Logan Nicoll, who attended the meeting, said that the state legislation was really only for long-term rentals and that it exempts any rentals not rented for more than 90 days.

Board member Justin Hyjek said that starting an exploratory committee would be advantageous, since so many properties do short-term rentals and it’s so economically beneficial for Ludlow. He said that if owners were treating their property as commercial, the property should be looked at that way, particularly for safety issues. He also suggested there might be a way to incentivize longer term rentals and suggested the town look at how many days per year a property is rented.

Other concerns brought up from the floor concerned septic and sewer capacity for houses that are rented for more people than the septic can handle. Failure of a septic system would impact underground water in the town. Goings said that’s what a registry would do, is look at the capacity of a septic.

The board approved a town truck purchase through Benson’s Chevrolet with increased fit up price totaling $33,979, which included a standard sander. An option that included a more high-tech sander was voted down because Schmidt was unwilling to approve a component that all the participating dealerships had not had a chance to bid on.

The Board approved the increase in “On-Call” pay for town workers from $90 to $180 to start immediately. The rates, which only apply in winter, had not been reviewed in over 20 years and will result in an increase of approximately $2,300 for the season.

Toward the end of the meeting, Murphy addressed the concern of the large influx of skiers this winter that has placed a strain on municipal services including traffic control, parking, highway, and bus coverage, as well as police, ambulance, and fire department impacts which Murphy said had “all been negatively affected.” Murphy said the town was going to sit down with Vail, which owns Okemo, and talk to them about these issues after the season. He said they would discuss Act 250 issues and the local DRB concerns.

Ludlow second homeowner Eric Alden said that this is a big issue for the town and he wants ensure that taxpayers of the town are aware of what that conversations are going to be and said additional costs should not be responsibility of the town, but should instead be on “Okemo’s dime.” He also stressed the need for transparency in the talks.

“… I’d like to ask the Board to be very open and transparent about what those conversations are, when they’re happening, and to involve the residents of the town and the businesses of the town because they’re the ones that are affected,” Alden said.

Board Chair Bruce Schmidt, who is the Vice President and General Manager of Okemo Mountain Resort, did not provide any comment during this discussion.

The rescheduled Ludlow Town Meeting will take place on Monday, April 4 in the Heald Auditorium at the Ludlow Town Hall. The election is scheduled for Tuesday, April 5 also at the town hall.

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