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Restrictions for rentals proposed Amherst TM to weigh home conversion rules

Amherst TM to weigh home conversion rules

AMHERST — An increasing number of properties being converted to off-campus housing for college students is prompting the Planning Board to bring a zoning amendment to fall Town Meeting that would restrict the rental of single-family homes.

Possibly the first local legislation of its kind in the state, the measure would require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals if a property owner chooses to rent to a group of up to four unrelated housemates.

A conflicted Select Board decided Monday against taking a position. The board will have further discussion about the zoning amendment later this month.

Planning Board member Robert Crowner told the Select Board that his board, which was deadlocked 4-4 on whether to recommend the article, sees this as an interim step before rental permit regulations are brought before annual Town Meeting next spring.

“This is an attempt to make sure somebody is putting an oversight on that,” Crowner said.

In its report, which will go to Town Meeting, the Planning Board writes, “the impacts of introducing increasing numbers of student rentals, too often unmanaged or poorly managed, into existing residential neighborhoods have been marked and largely negative.”

This would put more limits on single-family homes before they can be converted into rentals, possibly reducing the likelihood of limited liability companies purchasing homes for conversions to rentals.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said such an article could have major repercussions on every property owner in Amherst and could serve as a drag on potential home sales.

“To me this article feels like the step of last resort,” O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe said upstanding property owners could have challenges in selling their properties if they or the potential owner need to get a special permit for the property to be rented.

“That strikes me as an incredibly radical change,” O’Keeffe said.

But board member Diana Stein said she has seen an erosion in the town’s housing stock because there is no such regulation. She pointed to the accelerating rate of conversions to non-owner occupied, with Board of Assessors data presented by the Planning Board showing eight conversions in 2009, 10 in 2010, 13 last year and 20 so far this year.

Select Board member Alisa Brewer said she sees both sides of the argument. “If we’re trying to send a signal, this is one heck of a signal to outside investors,” Brewer said.

Select Board member James Wald said a home near his residence in North Amherst has been rented to four unrelated people, but this has been a positive experience for both neighbors and the homeowner.

The pioneering aspect is a concern to Select Board member Aaron Hayden, who wondered if the town has enough staff to enforce such permitting.

The possibility also exists, Hayden said, of decreasing property values as property owners find fewer potential buyers.

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