Should Portsmouth reign in short-term summer rentals?

‘I feel I live next door to a hotel,’ Island Park resident says

EastBayRI.com ·

Note: This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 11, to include comments made by Police Chief Thomas Lee.

PORTSMOUTH — For the past 31 years, Susan Panaggio has lived on a one-way circle on Riverside Street, overlooking Blue Bill Cove in Island Park.

The majority of her time there has been peaceful, but lately she’s seen some unwelcome changes in the neighborhood, she told the Town Council Monday night. 

“What I find unsettling is I feel I live next door to a hotel,” Ms. Panaggio said. “I never know who’s going to be there on any given night.”

What was once a quiet residential neighborhood has developed into “chaos” over the last few years, a problem she blames on short-term summer rentals.

Ms. Panaggio said she sees people walking around with open containers, speeding their cars in the wrong direction on the one-way street, fighting outside and dragging kayaks over private property to get to the cove. 

Landlords who don’t live in the area appear to be running a commercial business in a residential neighborhood, she said, and other homeowners or long-term renters have also complained about how the neighborhood’s character and tranquility have been compromised.

“One neighbor packed up and moved to Westport after 35 years,” she said.

On Tuesday, Police Chief Thomas Lee said his department has not received many complaints about noise, public drinking or disorderly conduct on that section of the street.

“We have not received a lot of calls on that area,” said Chief Lee, noting that police received no calls in 2016 and two “loud music calls” in 2015.

Regardless, police will look into the matter, he said. “We are keeping an eye on it, obviously, for this summer,” Chief Lee said.

Ms. Panaggio noted that Newport and Middletown have tightened or reviewed their ordinances regarding short-term summer rentals, and said Portsmouth should do the same. Such ordinances address things like parking requirements, occupancy limits, trash disposal and collecting information about individual tenants. 

“I just think it’s time for Portsmouth to reign this in,” Ms. Panaggio said. “The time has come for Portsmouth to give us permanent year-round taxpaying residents some relief.”

Council President Keith Hamilton said Town Planner Gary Crosby and Director of Business Development Richard Talipsky have already begun studying the issue to determine whether the town needs to consider any ordinance changes.

Mr. Crosby, who said he’s still reviewing the magnitude of the problem, has found 25 full-house Airbnb rentals in Portsmouth. Of those, more than half are on the west side and south of Town Hall, while nine are in Common Fence Point and Island Park, he said. He said, however, there are far more short-term rentals locally than those being offered by Airbnb.

Council member David Gleason said he sympathized with Ms. Panaggio’s plight. In his Common Fence Point neighborhood, he said, concerns have been raised about a bank-owned property that apparently is still being rented out. 

“We had one drug overdose in this particular house,” said Mr. Gleason, who agreed that the town needs to scrutinize short-term rentals.

Cars blocking access

Council member Paul Kesson, who referred to Ms. Panaggio’s one-way circle as “the lollipop,” noted the road is jammed with vehicles because there’s nothing but on-street parking there.

“I don’t even know how you get a rescue truck down there,” he said. “You have to include public safety in this discussion.”

Ms. Panaggio agreed, saying there are seven to 10 people crammed into one house and their vehicles are also blocking access to the water.

On a motion by Linda Ujifusa, the council voted 7-0 to direct town staff to review Ms. Panaggio’s concerns about short-term summer housing rentals and determine which ordinances, if any, need to be revised and make a recommendation including new proposed draft ordinances and possibly enforcement changes.

(It was not part of the motion, but Acting Director of Public Works Brian Woodhead also agreed to have one-way signs installed on Ms. Panaggio’s street. Currently there is a “Do Not Enter” sign on one side of the circle.)

Mr. Hamilton told Ms. Panaggio, however, that any new ordinance wouldn’t be in place by this summer.

Ms. Panaggio said she understood. 

“I just want to start moving in the right direction,” she said.

Island Park, Common Fence Point, Portsmouth Town Council

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