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P&Z Considers Regulation Language Changes Involving Farming, Renting



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(9:08 am) This article has been updated to reflect the correct name of a P&Z Commissioner.

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On September 7, the Planning & Zoning Commission met to discuss a series of proposed language changes that may have direct regulatory implications on how Newtown citizens can legally use their properties.

The proposed changes, which include both redefinition of several key terms as well as the introduction of new restrictions on accessory use of property, were submitted to the Commission for consideration by Land Use Director Rob Sibley.

The first item on the agenda involved possibly redefining critical agricultural terms that figure in the regulatory language of Newtown’s land use code. These terms include subjects such as agri-tourism and non-agricultural-related uses, which describe various means by which farm properties might generate revenue in addition to their generally accepted purpose.

Among the commissioners, even the term “farming” was subject to re-examination — with the new language defining the practice as “essential activities on a farm including horticulture, crop raising, and the management of livestock but excluding operating a kennel, operating a pig farm, or the raising of pelt-bearing animals or wildlife.” The commissioners, confused as to the reasoning for the exclusion of pig farms, had questioned Director Sibley on the matter.

“I found out it’s because of the Public Health Code,” he responded. “Currently, our Public Health Code doesn’t allow any operation in the state of Connecticut for a piggery or a pigsty to operate within 300 feet of any dwelling.” In this sense, he said separate regulatory categories besides the basic “farming” label would be necessary to account for this additional constraint on hog raising.

Vice Chair Roy Meadows requested the Commission move to amend this definition so as to include hog raising. But Sibley quickly asserted that such an amendment would require substantial further alterations to the code.

“If that is something you wish to address in the future for piggeries,” he said, “it’s going to include a much larger section. There’s about a page and a half of requirements that municipalities have to adopt in order to have piggeries or pig farms.”

With that fact acknowledged, the Commission agreed to move on to the next item of discussion.

Commissioners then opened discussion on the question of how to regulate short-term, leaseless rentals such as those orchestrated via apps like Airbnb.

These services that connect homeowners with free space to tenants looking to rent, usually imply short, vacation-like durations of stay. Director Sibley brought a draft that introduced a new category — “Short-Term Rental” — to distinguish these types of situations from more traditional, long-term renting.

According to the proposed revision, a “Short-Term Rental” is defined as “the leasing of a whole, or a portion of, property utilizing a Dwelling to a tenant for payment for a term longer than 14 days but not more than 30 days.” As written, this language would impose strict duration requirements on the length of a rental period, and would limit property owners’ ability to offer shorter or longer stays to potential renters.

Dissent was voiced by Commissioner Brian Leonardi.

As he explained, renting out one’s home or part of it as one sees fit is “reasonable accessory use” of one’s own property, and the 14-day minimum seems excessive in his view. He was joined in this opinion by fellow Commissioner Connie Widmann, who disclosed that she engages in short-term renting.

“Maybe two days would be a fairer minimum,” she suggested.

As of now, none of these alterations in the land use code have been made town regulation, and the Commission plans to continue reviewing and possibly acting on the language changes at a future meeting.

Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at owen@thebee.com.

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