WINCHESTER — The owner of a nearly 150-year-old mansion at 303 Fairmont Ave. wants to rent out his home’s eight bedrooms to travelers, but his neighbors aren’t too keen on the idea.
“I was a little taken aback,” homeowner Norval S. Peabody IV, who lives at the Fairmont Street home, told the Winchester Planning Commission Tuesday about his reaction to neighbors’ concerns. “I believe my property meets all the requirements and should be approved without issue.”
Winchester Zoning Administrator Frank Hopkins said his office heard from 11 of Peabody’s neighbors, none of whom supported his proposal to offer short-term rentals for what had originally been projected to be up to 24 guests at a time.
“They had issues with parking, traffic, the change in their neighborhood, a hotel in their neighborhood, all sorts of quality-of-life issues,” Hopkins said. “It really ran the gamut.”
In response to those concerns, Peabody voluntarily lowered the property’s maximum number of guests from 24 to nine. However, the city’s Planning Department still recommended placing a number of conditions on the home’s operations that Peabody told the Planning Commission “are not standard or, in my opinion, arbitrary.”
For example, Hopkins suggested limiting the home’s maximum number of guests to four at any one time, paving the property’s driveway and parking areas, requiring guests to observe “quiet hours” between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily and prohibiting weddings and other special events from occurring on the property.
Peabody’s home, which is located in a Low-Density Residential (LR) zoning district, was built in 1875 and recently underwent a $300,000-plus renovation to preserve and enhance its historic character. During the construction project, he said, up to seven work vehicles were parked on site at any given time and none of them had issues with the gravel driveway or nine parking spaces.
Banning weddings and other special events that have a small number of guests, Peabody said, would not be fair, especially since other short-term rentals in Winchester do not have that prohibition.
As for noise concerns, Peabody said he owns a property management company that he will employ to oversee his home’s guest rentals, and “I will personally be available, whether traveling or here, to handle any issues.
The biggest problem Peabody faces, though, is that his house and its 1.72 acres, including a standalone garage, are located in a LR district. Planning Commissioner Paul Richardson said LR is Winchester’s most restrictive zoning district, and Peabody is the first person to request a short-term rental in an LR home.
According to City Code, the LR district “is intended as a single-family residential area with low population density. The regulations for this district are designed to stabilize and protect the essential characteristics of the district, to promote and encourage a suitable environment for family life where there are children.”
“No matter what the conditions are, if we allow AirBnBs in LRs, that’s something that’s going to come up for a very long time,” Richardson said.
Chairman Mark Loring agreed there could be more short-term rental requests in the LR district in the future. He said there are several large homes in Winchester that are expensive to maintain, and one way owners can keep up with expenses is by renting out extra bedrooms to tourists and business travelers.
“The overarching question is whether this is something that is in the city’s comfort zone,” Loring said about allowing short-term rentals in the LR district.
The commission’s answer on Tuesday was “not yet.” Members voted 5-2 to table Peabody’s short-term rental request until its next business meeting on May 18, giving the panel an extra month to decide if it wants to allow short-term rentals in the LR district and, if so, what conditions should be attached. Loring and Commissioner John Tagnesi opposed the delay.
Attending Tuesday afternoon’s Planning Commission meeting, which was held via videoconference, were Chairman Mark Loring, Vice Chairwoman Lacey Burnett and members John Tagnesi, Leesa Mayfield, Paul Richardson, Brandon Pifer and David Ray.