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RED BANK: SHORT-RENTAL LAW ADVANCES

scott-lavelle-012523-2-500x375-6987348Scott Lavelle showing the audience a photo of a bounce house at an Airbnb that abuts his Worthley Street home. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919Red Bank’s council formally introduced a proposed law to regulate short-term home rentals such as Airbnbs Wednesday night.

The action followed heated debate on both the substance of the ordinance and the process that brought it to this point.

vahid-walker-012523-500x375-2628714Allen Place STR host Vahid Walker, above. Below, councilmembers John Jackson, left, and Michael Ballard. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

john-jackson-michael-ballard-012523-220x165-1332425The latest version of the proposed ordinance was little changed from the version proposed December 14. It would allow short-term rentals (STRs) throughout town, except in zones that are solely residential, and would require that operators own the properties being rented and use them them as their principal residences.

“Nothing in this ordinance prevents any homeowner from putting their home up for rental on a long-term basis,” said Council President Michael Ballard, who has championed the law since last summer. “And that long-term could be as short as 30 days. So we’re not trying to kill anybody’s rental income.”

Instead, he said, “we’re just trying to create communities in Red Bank where neighbors know their neighbors from week to week, and month to month, and hopefully for years. I don’t think short-term rentals provide that.”

Over the course of an extended debate that helped push the meeting to nearly four and half hours, residents and council members butted heads over whether STRs were a boon to homeowners facing soaring costs and visitors in need of lodging that’s cheaper and more affordable than hotels; or “businesses” with the potential to disrupt residential areas and the market for affordable housing.

Two residents again complained about the house at 250 Mechanic Street, a former halfway house that’s now a six-bedroom, Airbnb-listed source of “true anxiety” for neighbors, in the words of one.

Though advertised as prohibiting large parties or gatherings, it’s regularly used in that way, said Worthley Street resident Scott Lavelle. It’s the site of large, loud parties, at least one of which featured a backyard bouncehouse, he said. No one “resides” there, he said.

“No couple who’s going to have a romantic dinner at Robinson Ale House is going to rent this place,” he said.

The home’s owners, Carole and Evan Werner, did not comment during the meeting. In December, Carol Werner told the council via Zoom that she’d never before heard the complaints about the house aired that night, and found them “shocking.”

Lavelle found her response not credible. Police have been called numerous times, he said.

“This woman is effin’ surprised?” he said. “It’s so effin’ obvious. How do you listen to that with a straight face?”

Other commenters said that a compromise law could be struck so that concerns about disruptive houses were addressed while allowing responsible homeowners to generate needed income.

The law can be crafted “in a way that 250 Mechanic does not survive this,” said Wallace Street resident Denis O’Sullivan, who does not operate a STR.

Given what he called “the onerousness of conditions,” the proposed law “is a ban masquerading as regulation,” O’Sullivan said.

Vahid Wallace, who hosts STR on Allen Place, and Linden Place homeowner Nicole Shore, who does not, both called the council to strike a “balance” between the competing interests.

Ballard and others on the all-Democratic council defended the ordinance, which is expected to be up for an adoption vote at the February 8 meeting.

A number of residents expressed frustration that a workshop or special forum on the issue had not been held. STR host Anthony Setaro, of Oakland Street, said he has been pressing for one since August, to no avail.

At the council’s the final session of 2022, on December 14, Ballard said a workshop on the topic would be held.

“You sat there in front of all of us, did you not, and said we would workshop this,” said Setaro.

“We did workshop it. We put it on the agenda a couple of times and talked about it,” Ballard replied.

Since the December 14 session, the council has held two meetings: a January 4 reorganization and a regular session January 11. The ordinance is not mentioned on the agenda for either.

Councilmember Ed Zipprich said the council has “had very many conversations about the ordinance, we’ve heard pros and cons from residents, the owners, the business investors. So I think in all fairness, it has been discussed at length over the course of several months.”

Lisa Fadini, who operates a STR on Wallace Street, said the “whole process is a bad marriage. We talk and talk, and you guys nod your heads, and nothing ever changes. You don’t listen.”

The ordinance still contained the same errors, such as referring to Red Bank as “West Milford,” that were pointed out in December, she said.

“It seems that all we’ve done is reintroduce the same document, with maybe some minor changes,” said Mayor Billy Portman. “Our residents are saying, ‘we don’t feel like we’ve been heard.'”

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