WESTFIELD – Residents of Overlook Drive spoke up during public participation at Thursday’s City Council meeting with concerns about an AirBnB rental on their street.
Richard L. Farrell of 41 Overlook Drive said the house at 65 Overlook Drive sold last fall, and is now a fast mover on AirBnB, which he called “a cyberspace company like Uber.” He said the AirBnB listing calls the house “a beautiful Westfield home with a view.”
“We live in a great, safe, quiet neighborhood,” Farrell said. He said the neighborhood is near Westfield State University, and he is concerned about safety and security. He said there is a rule that only three roomers can reside at a private residence, but the listing advertises room for 6 guests.
“It’s not a room. They’re promoting a hotel. Check in after 2 pm, check out at 11 a.m. $149 a night plus service fees,” Farrell said. He said he’s made complaints to the Building Department, but has been told there is no ordinance that covers short term rentals.
“We’re looking for an update to the ordinance for the whole city,” Farrell said, adding, “With this hotel, Westfield has lost revenue if nothing else.”
Frank Mills of 47 Overlook Drive also came to the podium, saying he has lived in the neighborhood since “before the college was there.”
Mills said the lodging will adversely impact the safety of the neighborhood. “I respectfully request the council to act most expeditiously,” Mills said.
Dierdre Bean of 67 Overlook Drive, next door to the AirBnB, said she purchased the house five years ago because of the quiet street. Bean said she has three young children.
She said over the past couple of months, she has seen six or seven different groups of people, and several different cars in the driveway or on the front yard.
“(These are) transient people unknown to the neighborhood,” Bean said, adding that she has safety concerns. “I am not comfortable knowing there are strangers from all over the world a few hundred yards away. How would you feel if your family’s safety was being threatened,” she asked.
“Nothing’s wrong because nothing’s happened yet. Something could happen. We need to prevent something from happening,” said Maura Bellamy, who also resides on Overlook Drive.
Bellamy said, in the last few weeks, there have been more than six young men in the house. “Any child in our neighborhood is vulnerable. I’m mostly concerned with the children in the neighborhood,” she said.
Ward 4 Councilor Michael Burns thanked all the residents for their patience. “I’ve been working with the Law Department. I hope there will be something from them at the next meeting,” Burns said.
Bellamy asked what the next step would be, and how they could get in touch with the owner. Several residents said they had attempted to make contact, but were unable to. “Should we as a neighborhood call the Westfield Police Department to drive through the neighborhood,” Bellamy asked.
Frank Mills said he has spoken with Police Chief John Camerota about this, who he said was just as concerned as he was.
Superintendent of Buildings Carissa Lisee said on Friday that there currently are no ordinances to cover AirBnB’s in Westfield. “That’s the problem, they don’t really fall under anything,” Lisee said. She said that the use of the dwelling as an AirBnB doesn’t change it from a single family dwelling, or from a residential to a commercial property. She said that currently the residence is not paying any taxes or fees on the business to the city. She said regular bed & breakfasts would fall under the Board of Health, because they serve food.
Lisee said she explained to Burns when he came into her office on Thursday, that the City Council has to petition the Law Department to draft an ordinance and review it in sub-committee. “They have to go through the whole process,” she said.
When asked about redress for neighbors, Lisee said right now, they are doing everything they can do. “If they find people parking on the lawn or breaking the noise ordinance to call the cops,” she said.
At the meeting, Burns said this is a city-wide issue. “There are three other properties in Westfield on that website. This is city-wide, not just Ward 4,” he said.