One neighbor called it “the house from hell.” Another said she’s afraid to go outside, and for her young daughter to be out on the front lawn. Others have talked about the influx of …
One neighbor called it “the house from hell.” Another said she’s afraid to go outside, and for her young daughter to be out on the front lawn. Others have talked about the influx of drunks, rowdy renters and suspicious people into their formerly quiet neighborhood.
After months of living on eggshells, neighbors finally got a reason to be hopeful Wednesday, when the Westport Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the appeal of a cease-and-desist order filed against the owners of a Spinnaker Way home who have been using their property exclusively as a short term rental since early in the year — and which neighbors say has been making their lives miserable for a good part of the year. The owners have until the second week of September to appeal.
The home, at 50 Spinnaker Way, was purchased last November by Westport residents Brenda Hernandez and Roger Andrews. The new owners paid $805,000 for the property but have never lived there. Instead, they have been renting out the property on AirBnB and other short term rental websites since early in the year, and early on advertised the property on Social Media as “Spinnaker Retreats,” marketing it as a special event location that could service 50 people for corporate events, parties and weddings. Though they’ve since scaled back the number of allowed guests, the property is still being actively rented with bookings on file for most coming weekends and even into 2024.
For much of the spring and summer, neighbors say they have been living on edge amidst a nearly endless influx of strangers, drunks, rude renters, parking congestion and noise problems. They have called the police, spoken numerous times to town officials, attended no fewer than three meetings on the subject, and out of frustration put up lawn signs proclaiming that “Neighborhoods are for neighbors.”
“I’m sure none of you would like to live next door to this,” 46 Spinnaker Way resident Jennifer Keller told the zoning board in June. “We just wish that this would just go away. They (the owners) do not care about this neighborhood, they do not care who they rent it to.”
Westport does not specifically regulate short term rentals one way or the other, but members of the planning and zoning boards have been working on by-laws to give the town regulatory authority over how they can be run, and where.
But with no targeted by-laws to refer to, zoning enforcement officer Ralph Souza sent a cease and desist order to the owners on June 18, stating that a special permit was required to operate a bed and breakfast on the property.
Bed and breakfasts are regulated by the town, and under Souza’s determination the owners needed to cease renting out the property until they applied for and received bed and breakfast designation. The owners, through attorney Robert Pellegrini, promptly appealed, and on June 21, zoning board members met and upheld that appeal, ruling that the town’s by-laws, among other things, state that bed and breakfasts must be owner-occupied and have no more than one to three bedrooms.
Pellegrini said that since the owners have never lived in the home and purchased it as a commercial property, and since it has four bedrooms, Souza’s cease-and-desist order was unenforceable.
Though zoning board members said they felt for the neighbors, they agreed with Pellegrini and said they were forced to uphold the appeal, which they did unanimously.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t violate another aspect of our zoning,” board chairman Roger Menard said following the vote.
Souza tries again
Several days later, on June 23, Souza sent a second cease-and-desist order, stating this time that short term rentals are not allowed in the residential/agricultural zone in which the house sits, as such rentals are not specifically cited in the town’s list of allowable uses in that zone.
Again, Pellegrini appealed the order, and the zoning board convened Wednesday to consider it.
Pellegrini acknowledged that the owners are still renting the house despite the cease-and-desist, but asked for a one-month continuance as the house is currently being marketed for sale.
“As I’m sure you can imagine, they don’t want any part of doing this anymore and understandably so,” Pellegrini said, adding that he has been unable to convince his clients to stop renting out the property since Souza’s order was sent.
Neighbors and board members were skeptical of the owners’ efforts to sell, however.
“This applicant has basically thumbed his nose at the town and the neighbors, and I think that’s wrong,” board vice-chairman Gerald Coutinho said.
Before opening up the floor to the public on Pellegrini’s request to continue, Menard said the town is in a sticky situation, as Westport has never adjudicated a short term rental dispute. The board’s decision will affect not just the neighbors and the property owner, he noted, but also those who have innocently rented time in the home without any knowledge of the dispute.
But non-voting board member Cynthia Kozakiewicz dismissed Menard’s thought, saying “I don’t think we should take that under consideration. That’s bad business but that’s not our problem. I feel for those people if they should lose their vacation, but I don’t think that’s any of our business.”
Opening the floor to the public, a steady stream of neighbors said the town needs to take action, reject the continuance and enforce the cease-and-desist.
“Those individuals have no intentions whatsoever of selling this house,” Ana Silvia, of 52A Spinnaker Way, said. “These people are just playing a game. They came into a residential area to run a hotel.”
After several others spoke, the board unanimously rejected the request for continuance and moved on to determining whether or not the owners’ appeal of the cease-and-desist itself is valid, opening the floor to the public a second time.
The matter at hand
Residents picked up where they left off, saying the home has ruined their summer and they’re afraid for the future.
“They have done nothing but bring us grief,” Silvia said in her second trip up to the microphone. “We didn’t bring these clowns, in. I’ve had to live in fear ... We didn’t look for this trouble. I want to be safe in my house; we live here, they don’t belong here.”
“None of us would really have a problem with it if it wasn’t rented out every single weekend,” added resident Alyssa Menard.
Following about 30 minutes of additional discussion, town attorney Jeff Blake stated that while the neighbors have passionate feelings on the matter, the board’s only job is to determine whether or not the appeal of the second cease-and-desist order is valid. In his eyes, he said, it is not, and cited a Lynnfield, Ma. case that spoke to roughly the same zoning use issue — “I think it’s a stronger case than the Lynnfield case,” he said.
Shortly after, Menard brought the matter to a vote, and the appeal was rejected unanimously.
Though the owners have 20 days to appeal the zoning board’s decision, it is unclear if they will — Pellegrini did not return a phone call from the Westport Shorelines seeking comment.
As of Friday, the home was still being listed for short term rentals on Airbnb and other sites — $422 per night.
“This home is located in a wonderful safe and quiet neighborhood,” the description reads.