Zoners nix one AirBNB; Warwick Neck proposal withdrawn

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Warwick Neck residents who turned out Tuesday night in opposition an AirBNB at 70 Kirby Ave. were surprised to hear the petitioner for the special use permit say she would be opposed to an AirBNB in the neighborhood, too.

That’s not how Pamela Weisenbach-Abkarian saw things initially.

She told the Zoning Board of Review that once she looked into operating an AirBNB she found it fraught with record keeping and, besides that, she would have little control over who might occupy the three rooms she planned to rent. She said she loves the solitude of the neighborhood and she wouldn’t want an AirBNB either.

After talking with her mother, Weisenbach-Abkarian said she changed her plan to restricting rental of the rooms to traveling nurses who work in periods of three to six months at local hospitals.

“I thought when we do nurses there would be no upheaval in the neighborhood,” she told the board and 22 neighbors who gathered around the board meeting table in the front of the City Council Chambers. The change in plans appeared to catch everyone by surprise. The neighbors were prepared to oppose an AirBNB and the board, which only minutes earlier unanimously turned down a special use permit for an AirBNB in nearby Highland Beach, was leaning toward doing the same thing again.

The Planning Department recommended denial of both requests on grounds of insufficient parking; that the use would not be consistent with the surrounding area and that an AirBNB would not be consistent with the zoning ordinance or comprehensive plan.

In their recommendation planners also spoke of the importance of the city’s 17 hotels and what they generate in taxes for the city. Planners reasoned an AirBNB is essentially “a motel operating in residential zones, which erodes the fiscal assets the hotel industry provides to the City while also degrading the character of the residential neighborhood.”

Weisenbach-Abkarian said she thought an AirBNB would be a source of generating revenue while putting to use a 7-bedroom house that seems awfully empty once all the family has left. Then, instead of transient renters, she thought longer term tenants and limiting then to traveling nurses would be best.

The board reasoned the petition had changed and on the advice of members Mark McKenney and Ted Sarno, she withdrew the petition. It was unclear what conditions would apply to room rentals for an extended period. Would this be a rooming house that is not a permitted use in a residential area or would it be a bed and breakfast that is permitted? There weren’t any answers.

Board chair Donald Morash advised Weisenbach-Abkarian to meet with her neighbors and explain what she is looking to do, as well as talk with the planning department to identify conditions under which she could rent the rooms.

The board was not so accommodating with the special use request of Doris Bruno for a 2-unit AirBNB at 38 Ogden Ave. in Highland Beach. Although she does not have a permit, Bruno told the board she has been renting rooms as well as a camper on the property. She said that friends had reached out to her and she agreed to renting to a group who attended a wedding. Bruno said she promoted the city, area restaurants and Rocky Point. She said it was her hope to grow and perhaps hire outside help.

She said she would “carefully select people who would come visit.”

The board wasn’t impressed.

“An enterprise is being run where it should exist,” said board member Paul Wyrostck.

Attorney John Revens, representing some of the opposing neighbors, said that to begin with the house is on an undersized lot under the A-7 zoning; that it can’t meet parking requirements and that from the start Bruno did not properly complete the application.

“This is a type of use that was not contemplated when [the neighborhood] was built,” he said.

Neighbor Wayne Maloney called Highland Beach a quiet, close knit and secure neighborhood. He called parking a “nightmare.” He noted that Bruno welcomes guest with dogs and that barking has been an issue. He was fearful that tenants have use of the kitchen and that cooking could be a safety issue.

It was pointed out that Bruno has been cited on two occasions for failing to have a special use permit. In response to question on enforcement, the board said that was not their role. The board was presented a petition signed by 29 people in opposition to the AirBNB. About 15 people turned out to register their opposition.

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