Short-Term Rental Debate Continues In Garwood

By KELLY MEHORTER
For Union County HAWK

GARWOOD — On September 8, Garwood residents filled the council chambers where a controversial ordinance to ban short-term rentals of 30 days or less, like Airbnb or Vrbo, was on the agenda for introduction. The ordinance would also make it unlawful to rent out pools. Instead, the council tabled the ordinance. Had the ordinance been introduced during the September 8 meeting, the planning board would only have 35 days to review the draft. Mayor Sara Todisco encouraged the council to table the ordinance to give the planning board more time to make their recommendation, which the council agreed to in a 4-0 vote.

Councilman Marc Lazarow was absent from the meeting, but prepared a statement reporting that he will abstain from the ordinance because he lives next to an Airbnb. Mr. Lazarow requested that Councilwoman Kimberly Salmon also abstain, as she has completed short-term rental sales in neighboring towns. Ms. Salmon confirmed that she will be recusing herself.

The ordinance has been met with both strong support and opposition. Those in favor of the ban wish to prevent potential disturbances in residential areas and maintain a sense of tight-knit community. Issues of safety are also a concern. Resident Linda Devito cited Megan’s Law, which makes information regarding registered sex offenders available to the public. “When I chose to buy my home here and when I chose to live here, I [was] able to look up someone’s address or look up the vicinity of who these offenders are, and make a choice. That choice is taken away if these rental properties and transient people come in.”

Opponents of the ban have called attention to the positive uses of short-term rentals. Councilwoman Heather Loffredo listed instances when one might need an Airbnb: a death in the family, care-taking for a family member with a long-term illness, a birth of a baby, in-between the sale of buying and selling homes, during construction, business trips, relocation and neighborhood exploration.

Regarding safety concerns and environment disruptions, Ms. Loffredo pointed out that the only Airbnb located in the borough has a no party or event policy. “In addition, Garwood has its own local ordinances regarding property maintenance, noise, snow removal, as well as laws against public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, drug usage. It seems as if between the homeowners rules and town ordinances, the residents surrounding the home will be protected with normal surveillance with no additional man power hours.”

There is also controversy surrounding the preventative nature of the ban. Resident Jill Brown, the host of Garwood’s sole Airbnb, addressed the governing body. Ms. Brown said she spoke with Chief James Wright to find that there have been no complaints or problems brought to the police about her property.

Councilwoman Jen Blumenstock took the opposite approach: “to me, this is not about any particular Airbnb that’s up online right now, it’s not about a particular address, it’s not about whether there’s been any issues with the particular address. To me, it’s about the greater good of our community and what we want our community to look like.”

Discussion of this ordinance will continue at the next planning board meeting on September 28 at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building and is open to the public.

In other business, Mayor Todisco was happy to report that the borough has collected a total of $289,200 in sewer connection fees this year, which can be used to offset next year’s budget. This large sum has mainly come from the two Vermella developments on South Avenue and the Garden Homes on North Avenue. Also, the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority gave a presentation about amendments to an upcoming ordinance.

The next Garwood Borough Council meeting will take place on Thursday, September 22, at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public in-person, but residents are also welcome to watch a live stream via Youtube or participate by joining the Zoom link available on the borough website.

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