Town council members spent more than an hour discussing and debating whether further regulation or outright restriction on rental development in Mansfield is necessary.
Two Mansfield town officials and one UConn off-campus housing official recommended stronger penalties for problem landlords, discouraging future residential-to-rental conversion and better enforcement.
“To a large extent, the concerns that we are hearing from residents is zoning enforcement,” Mayor Paul Shapiro said. “We heard from the staff how hard it is to enforce the zoning regulations, particularly as it pertains to the ‘no more than three people’ in a single-family house regulation.”
Recommendations included pursuing injunctive relief in court against landlords of nuisance properties, incentivizing living in apartment complexes instead of single-family neighborhoods and applying fines of $150 per day for zoning violations.
The presenters, Mansfield Planning and Development Director Linda Painter, Building and Housing Inspection Director Michael Ninteau and UConn Off-Campus Student Service Director John Armstrong, gave a 50-minute presentation on town regulations and university policies governing rental housing in the town.
The presentation was followed by 45 additional minutes of questions from council members to the presenters, including to what extent they believed restriction of rental development would be effective.
Concerns over the keeping housing costs affordable remained in the background of the debate. Councilman Ben Shaiken said the town needs to evaluate how any restrictions would affect the housing market before moving forward. He said he is concerned housing prices are already too high and does not want to implement measures that would increase the cost.
As a result, Councilwoman Toni Moran moved to create an ad-hoc committee to evaluate the rental housing regulations, which passed unanimously.
“There are so many enforcement offices and regulations,” Moran said. “There are real needs for rental housing and for low-cost rental housing in this town. I don’t think this is going to be part of our purview. We’re going to look at some of the proposals for limiting single-family houses to rental, because this is in every college town.”
Moran said building dormitories and private apartment complexes around the border of UConn – especially in the Four Corners area around the U.S. Route 44 and State Route 195 junction – would take pressure off the residential communities in the rest of the town.
Residents have spoken at the last two town council meetings during public comment to express their concerns about the rental housing situation. Councilman Mark Sargent said he was glad to see the council take action by forming an ad-hoc committee to present tangible solutions.
New council sworn in for two-year term
All nine members of the town council were sworn in before the meeting began Monday night.
The council is elected to serve a two-year term that expires in 2017. Among those sworn in were recent UConn graduates Shaiken and Sargent. Shaiken, who graduated in 2010, was elected as a Democrat while Sargent, who graduated in May, was elected as a Republican.
“One of the most important things you can do is thank people for voting for you,” Shaiken said. “It’s a big step to take, and it’s a serious thing. Other than that, I didn’t really have any big goals. I had some questions that came up during the excellent presentation that staff gave tonight. I’m pretty committed to learning before I speak.”
Shaiken received the third-most votes out of the nine candidates in last Tuesday’s election. He told council members he wanted to continue the conversations he started with voters on the campaign trail.
Sargent finished with the fewest votes, but was still vocal in discussions about the issues addressed during the meeting.
“I was fortunate enough to be elected to the town council,” Sargent said. “Albeit, I was the lowest vote-getter, I was still elected by the body, by the members of the town of Mansfield, and I’m honored to serve each and every one of them. It’s my duty here on day one to be prepared with questions and concerns to make sure that our government is doing the job that they need to do.”
Shapiro elected mayor, Ryan deputy mayor
Shapiro was unanimously elected mayor after he received the second-most votes in the Nov. 3 election. He is replacing Betsy Paterson, who retired from the council at the end of the previous term. Paterson served as Mansfield’s mayor for 16 years.
“I will certainly, hopefully improve as time goes on,” Shapiro said. “I want to continue to have civility, decorum – no council member interrupting another council member.”
Shapiro had served as Mansfield’s deputy mayor for two terms after being elected to the town council in 2011. He said he looks forward to “working collaboratively with Democrats and Republicans” on the town council.
Council members also unanimously elected Bill Ryan as deputy mayor.