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City to review zoning powers

December 26, 2018

STAMFORD — Within 48 hours of the new year, the Board of Representatives’ Land Use Committee is slated to review several hot-button zoning issues and assess whether efforts made in the last year to curb abuses are yielding any results.

In three separate review sessions scheduled for next Wednesday, the panel will discuss what the city does after it learns of a zoning complaint, how the city imposes and collects fines on such complaints and the feasibility of regulating A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b‌ rentals as the rental listings continue to grow.

The city last year added a zoning enforcement officer position and gave officers more teeth, allowing them to issue daily fines for violations. Board President Matthew Quinones, D-16, said the big question to him is whether “the investment we made has been productive and has the ordinance helped?”

One topic to be discussed in particular is the growing presence of roadside lawn signs advertising area services. Although it’s a surprise to some, the two-staked placards are illegal in city’s right-of-way and offending businesses can be fined $90 a day, per sign, for the street-side clutter.

That hasn’t stopped what city Rep. Bob Lion, D-19, calls a “plethora” of offenders.

“If it’s not stopped it becomes like New Jersey, advertising everywhere,” said Lion, who co-sponsored one of the reviews. “A lot of people might be unaware of it when they first put it up.”

Lion said he sees signs “all over my district, and on the exits to the Merritt.” The worst offender is the personal-training company GymGuyz, he said.

The city has fined GymGuyz some $9,000 for signs, but hasn’t heard back from the company, Lion said. A man who answered the phone Wednesday for GymGuyz Southern Fairfield County declined to comment and declined to give his name or title.

Another issue before the committee will be how the city can regulate short-term rentals.

By late summer, city hosts had taken in nearly double the 2,000 guests housed in Stamford through Airbnb in all of 2017.

City Rep. John Zelinsky, D-11, has led the charge to regulate Airbnb and similar companies after hearing complaints of over-parked streets and overstuffed homes in otherwise residential neighborhoods.

He had initially hoped for a ban, and then a fast-tracked ordinance to instead regulate the rentals, but said he is glad to start with a review on Jan. 2.

“A lot of residents are upset about it and would like to have something done,” he said.

Stamford isn’t the only municipality wrestling with how to regulate the rentals. The state Office of Legislative Research just this fall filed a report outlining how Connecticut towns are regulating the fledgling industry. Of the towns that have weighed in, most treat the rentals like bed and breakfasts, the report said.

If Stamford were to adopt a zoning regulation, for example, it would be only the second Connecticut city to have one.

Hartford codified a regulation in recent years that requires short-term rental hosts to obtain a zoning permit before offering rentals and also puts limits on the number of occupants and stay lengths, among other restrictions.

The review sessions are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 2 in the Government Center’s fourth-floor Democratic Caucus Room.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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