By Sue Ellen Woodcock
The Ordinance Review Committee, charged with reviewing the town’s charter and ordinances, held a public hearing Tuesday night to get ideas for what ordinances citizens of Winthrop want to see addressed.
The hot topics aired by the 15 people who were there were Air BnB (and similar accommodation sharing ventures), health regulations, vicious dogs and duck hunting.
Committee Chairman Joe Boncore told everyone that they were seeking ideas and if there are any ordinance changes they will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. He said the charter and ordinances are mandated to be reviewed every five years. The committee has worked on the charter and those revisions have been sent to the attorney general. The town council will then have to vote on them.
One woman sent a letter regarding duck hunting in the area of Snake Island and within the town limits. She questioned what the ordinances were regarding shooting and duck hunting.
There was also a lengthy discussion regarding Air BnB and other accommodation sharing set ups.
Resident Ken Goodwin of Precinct 2 shared that he lets out two extra bedrooms in his house through Air BnB. He started three years ago and explained that a review system is used. If the reviews for your place are bad, he said, you won’t get anybody coming back. He said that the proximity to Logan Airport and Boston makes Winthrop a desirable place to stay. According to Air BnB, Goodwin is considered a “super host” because of the number of people he hosts and the positive reviews.
“Winthrop can be a destination and is posed to be ahead of everyone else,” Goodwin said. “The town is hiding its head on this issue.”
He shared that the state legislature is working on a bill that would set up a tax for Air BnB. He also suggested studying how Portland, Oregon and Rhode Island have handled Air BnB.
Boncore said to change the town’s zoning laws takes a long time – going to the planning board, to a public hearing and then to the Town Council.
Town Council President Peter Gill said he has serious concerns about unregulated living space. He’s concerned about unsafe living conditions, violation of the bed and breakfast ordinance.
“This is something other than a bed and breakfast,” Gill said. “You’re offering quality but others don’t.”
He added that there is only one legal bed and breakfast in Winthrop.
“I offer a room. A clean, safe place,” said Gerta Mujaj, of Precinct 6. “If it’s not good people won’t come back. I have 700, 800 reviews. I refer (guests) to other businesses.”
Jim Dolan, who owns The Blue Pearl at Atlantis Marina, said “this is a business that clearly needs regulating.”
He said that with his 480 square foot boat he has generated $3,000 for the town of Winthrop. He also agreed there is legislation being worked on to provide tax money to the state and town.
Regardibng other ordinance issues, Nick LoConte, chairman of the Board of Health also asked the committee about revising some of the health regulations. LoConte said many have to be modified because they are outdated.
Christina Merenge of Precinct 4 questioned the committee about vicious dog ordinances and expressed a need for a better system when a vicious dog does attack. She lost her Yorkshire terrier when it was attacked by another dog in May. Her experience with the town and the animal control officer over the incident is making her question the process.
“This could be an opportunity to tighten up the ordinance,” said Committee member Heather Engman.
The Ordinance Review Committee’s next meeting will be Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.