Pittsfield Board Hesitant to Develop Short Term Rental Regulations

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Community Development Board wants to learn more about the impact of short-term rentals in the city before creating a regulation or governing ordinance for them.

In March, the Ordinances and Rules subcommittee referred a petition to the board that requested an investigation of claims concerning Airbnbs in the neighborhood of Ridge Avenue.

The council asked for a response by June with an expectation that they would give guidance on a process for short-term rentals yet the board is hesitant to take action without all of the information in front of them.

"This is a really difficult issue that most communities, especially at least locally, cannot seem to have a great handle on," City Planner CJ Hoss said at last week's meeting. 

"It's creating division, and isn't necessarily moving forward in a productive manner where it looks like there's a clear solution that anyone's come up with."

Hoss said it boils down to if there is an actual problem with short-term rentals in the city or not. He reported receiving some complaints about such properties over the year but not on a frequent basis.

When you search "Pittsfield" on Airbnb.com, nearly 800 results appear.

Typical complaints include overcrowding, too many vehicles, too much noise, and trash issues, which Hoss speculated could be addressed through other city departments.

The two possible paths that could be taken for addressing short-term rentals based on other communities' policies are implementing a short-term rental registration program or addressing them through a zoning ordinance.

With the registration program would come issues with staffing, as the city doesn't have the extra staff to uphold inspections and enforcement at the moment.

Hoss also added that these solutions won't necessarily stop the sources of complaints that have been received and that the city doesn't know if the short-term rentals in question are actively advertised and would be affected by it.

Board members agreed that the city doesn't have the staff for the venture.

"It seems like right now, if try to get something inspected it takes weeks, sometimes even months and we don't have the personnel, I don't know if we have money to hire new personnel," Floriana Fitzgerald said.

"So it just makes it very difficult to regulate something when you don't have people to enforce the regulation, I don't know if that's really a good reason not to have regulation but that's really a big problem I foresee."

Libby Herland said if Pittsfield has a problem with Airbnb-type rentals, it is not obvious to her.

"We don't have data, and to develop a regulation whether it's through a registration program or through zoning when we don't really have the data that tells us what's going on in Pittsfield, to know how it's impacting Pittsfield and what the trends may be, and we don't seem to really have a problem, at least that most of us can point to, I'm really hesitant to do anything," she said.

"Because I don't have a problem so much with the registration, but I do have a real concern about the ability for the city to handle that registration program and yes, we would charge a fee but I don't think it would bring in enough money to pay for a new position, which really you probably would need a new position or a halftime position or something like that.

"So with all that said, I think I'm basically more on the line of not doing anything or putting it on hold and seeing if we could get more data about what's going on in particular in Pittsfield."

Gary Levante brought up a concern about outside investors building properties in the city for short-term rentals and creating a housing affordability issue.

"I know this necessarily isn't an issue here and now today in Pittsfield, but there's an issue in many parts of the country, it is an issue in many communities," He said.

"And as we think about housing affordability in our communities being a major challenge and access to quality, affordable and quality housing stock being another challenge although this isn't an issue here and now today, at least as far as I can tell, I do think it is something that we should be thinking about as a community just because we shouldn't wait for something to be a problem before we look to address that because if we proactively address it, then we have that opportunity to prevent the impacts that can be a result of that."

Hoss said there are a few different things that can be done to pinpoint short-term rentals while recognizing that it is a great undertaking for the department's personnel.

He added that they can start to piece information together but may need some time depending on other projects.

Herland mentioned that the council will probably want a plan for collecting data with the board's response and it was mentioned that a consultant could be used, which would be dependent on securing funds.

"What I'm hearing is that in order to make any decision about whether we need regulation or zoning for short-term rentals, we need more information on short term rentals in general and whether there is a specific problem regarding them in the city of Pittsfield, so that's something that requires personnel and time," Chair Sheila Irvin observed.

"And so it seems that what our response to the City Council is is that we understand that this is a potential problem but it doesn't seem to be a problem at the moment, and we do have some ways of dealing with problems here and there and that we do need time to really get a handle on what the impact would be in Pittsfield."

Tags: Planning Board,   short-term rentals,   

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Goodwill Makes Promotions

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont announced the promotions of Karen Harrington to director of retail operations, northern territory, and Mary Killeen to the position of director of finance.
Harrington is the manager of Goodwill's retail store in Bennington, Vermont, a position she has held since 2015. She oversees operations at Goodwill's store in North Adams and Rutland and is a member of the team working on the July reopening of Goodwill's flagship store in Pittsfield. Prior to joining Goodwill, she was employed at the Bennington Museum for 22 years, including 16 years as administrative assistant to the executive director, followed by six years as manager of the museum's gift shop.
Harrington attended Southern Vermont College and is a Bennington native. She resides there with her husband Tim, 13 chickens, two ducks and a Labrador retriever. She has two grown children, three grown stepchildren, and ten grandchildren.
Killeen, a Pittsfield native and resident, joined Goodwill in 2020 as its senior accountant. With a B.S. in business administration from Stonehill College and many years of accounting experience, she brings expertise in accounting principles and best practices to Goodwill's administrative team. In her new role as director of finance, Killeen will oversee all the day-to-day financial aspects of Goodwill's operations, as well as short- and long-term planning for the nonprofit organization.
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