Published in the September 20, 2016 edition.
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The Zoning Board of Appeals continues to deal with a homeowner whose rented house was the scene of an as-yet unsolved murder back in May.
The ZBA continued Alexander Styller’s appeal of a cease and desist order for the second time in a month last week.
The 8 Needham Rd. homeowner is appealing Building Inspector Jack Roberto’s cease and desist order seeking to prevent Styller from renting out his property “for lodging purposes on a short-term rental basis” because doing so violates the town’s zoning bylaw that prohibits short-term rentals in the single-family zoning district. These types of rentals are classified as a hotel, lodging or rooming house use.
The cease and desist order was issued after 33-year-old Keivan Heath of Randolph was shot and killed at a house party at the home over Memorial Day weekend.
Police found Heath, a father of two children, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds after arriving at the scene, according to published reports. Heath was pronounced dead at Union Hospital.
Prior to the May murder, the town was unaware Styller was renting out his house.
Similar to the previous hearing held at Lynnfield Middle School last month, the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center was jam packed with abutters of Styller’s property as well as other residents.
Special permit request
Styller’s attorney, Lester Riordan, informed the ZBA last week his client will be applying for a special permit in order to continue renting out the property.
“We feel this is the right way to deal with this issue,” said Riordan.
Roberto stated in his cease and desist letter to Styller that a special permit only allows lodging house uses from the ZBA, and Styller has never received a special permit.
ZBA Chairman Tom Aylward informed Riordan there is not enough time to get Styller’s special permit request on the ZBA’s October meeting because neighbors are required to be notified of the request. He said the ZBA will discuss the special permit request at its November meeting.
Appeal debate continues
In regard to Styller’s appeal of Roberto’s cease and desist order, Town Counsel Tom Mullen said the town’s zoning bylaw allows “the regular renting of rooms or the furnishing of table board in a dwelling by prearrangement to not more than five persons.”
“Table board means you are not only providing rooms to people, you are also providing food,” said Mullen. “That is not what we are doing here. In this case, the homeowner is transferring occupancy of the whole premise to one tenant after another for extended periods of time.”
Aylward noted the State Legislature did not act on proposed legislation that would regulate sites such as Airbnb-like hotel rooms. He also noted the Planning Board develops new bylaws and makes changes to existing bylaws, which need to be approved at Town Meeting. He said the International Building Code defines transient as less than 30 days.
“The concern I have is if we interpret one word, transient, that came to us from one case of enforcement, we are in essence setting a precedent for the town of Lynnfield,” said Aylward. “To me, that seems to bear the weight in essence of writing a new bylaw because we would be setting the precedent that no one in the town of Lynnfield can rent their home for two to 30 days and they would have to rent it for longer periods of time.”
Aylward said the town needs to update its zoning bylaw to clarify regulations for short-term rentals.
Mullen argued the town’s existing bylaw clearly stipulates short-term rentals are prohibited in residential districts. He noted Wakefield, where he also serves as town counsel, issues cease and desist orders to any resident who tries to rent out property for short-term rentals on websites such as Airbnb.
“I believe that our zoning bylaw properly forbids serial short-term rentals in the residential district,” said Mullen.
Aylward said he had Mullen craft an alternate letter that removed the two- to 30-day rental requirements. He said the letter contains language that seeks to prevent Styller from “renting the premises for business meetings, video shoots, reunions and parties.”
“It takes away the concept (Styller) can’t rent it at all,” said Aylward.
Aylward said Styller would be subject to penalties if he violates the agreement.
“We can close on this motion and they could rent the house,” said Aylward. “If there are any issues, (neighbors) could still complain subject to the bylaws that we have and if the building inspector were to find out that they were renting the house for business meetings, partial days or less than two days, (Styller) would fall prey to the potential penalties. If (Styller) wants to file a special permit, it would be a total separate issue.”
ZBA member Patrick Rondeau asked Aylward what is the course of action if Styller rents the house to people over a three-day weekend and the renters don’t specify why they are renting the home.
ZBA member John Fallon also aired concerns about Aylward’s proposal.
“It seems to me that (Styller) could simply rent the house and not ask the renters to specify the purpose for which they were renting it,” said Fallon. “He would be able to continue doing what he is doing now.”
“It seems to me the interpretation is that the petitioner rents the properly on a frequent basis but not necessarily a serial basis,” said Aylward. “If the owner vacates it for a weekend or a week and lets somebody else use it, to me, it’s primarily his residence and the fact he decides to leave for two days or a week seems to be something anybody in town has the right to do.”
Riordan said he supported Aylward’s proposal.
“Our position is no more parties and no more events,” said Riordan. “We agree it has to be residential use that is consistent with the district.”
The majority of Styller’s neighbors at the meeting were less than thrilled with Aylward’s proposal.
A woman who lives at 6 Needham Rd. said the ZBA has “yet to address the nude sunbathing and noise violations that continue to happen.”
Fallon said the ZBA cannot enforce the noise code because “that is not in our jurisdiction.” He said the nude sunbathing matter is “not a Zoning Board issue.”
Stacey Cook, 5 Alderney Way, said Styller’s Airbnb account stipulates that parties and nude sunbathing are allowed at 8 Needham Rd.
“When the neighbors see that in the rental advertisement, we have to ask what kind of clientele (is Styller) attracting,” said Cook.
Aylward said the ZBA did express concerns about the advertisement in August but said the board “does not have jurisdiction over advertising” because that is a federal issue.
“What we have is interpretation of the intent and the actual use,” said Aylward. “What people do in the privacy of their own home or backyard is not public nudity. Nudity in any case is not in our jurisdiction. If there is public nudity, you call the police.”
Joseph Cerniglia, 4 Needham Rd. asked the ZBA how the board will be able to enforce Styller’s rentals.
“It doesn’t seem like you will be able to enforce this,” he said. “It seems like pie in the sky.”
Fallon said the ZBA “looks to the neighborhood” to help enforce its rulings.
“If you think the property is being used in a way that is inconsistent with our ruling or the zoning bylaw, then you have the ability to complain to either the police or, depending on the situation, the zoning board administrator which in this case is the building inspector,” said Fallon.
Rondeau asked Riordan if the ZBA continued the discussion, would Styller consider not renting the property until the ZBA makes a decision.
Riordan said Styller would not be amenable to the request. He also claimed Styller has “no commitments” to rent the property for the next six months.
After further discussion, the ZBA voted unanimously to continue the discussion to its November meeting, contingent that Styller rent the property only for residential purposes and applies for a special permit.