OLD LYME — First Selectman Timothy Griswold said that town government should do more research before acting on Gov. Ned Lamont’s April 2 executive order restricting hotels, short-term rentals, and other lodging for use by first responders, essential workers and special cases, for as long as the coronavirus public health emergency lasts.
Griswold, speaking during a teleconferenced meeting of the Board of Selectmen Monday night, said that canceling most short-term and seasonal rentals would be “disastrous” for property owners who depend on that income, and he said that it wasn’t clear from the order who would have to enforce the restrictions.
“I think [the order] needs more clarity, and if at the end of the day they say, ‘Too bad all short-term rentals need to be canceled and the rents paid out’ then I think we’ll have serious problems on our hands,” Griswold said.
He added later, “Let’s face it, our beach area is our industry and I think we need to look out for their interests.”
Selectman Mary Jo Nosal said that having a high number of visitors in town is “highly related” to having group gatherings on the local beaches, which the town is trying to discourage to reduce the virus’ spread.
“My concern is also the people who are living here, and are concerned when they see folks visiting here for a short term potentially being asymptotic carriers,” Nosal said. “They’re equally important in our decision, and if we don’t make a decision on this soon it may be too late because the beaches will be too crowded.”
Selectman Chris Kerr said that it seemed “we don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s coming down from the state.” But Kerr later added that it would hard to enforce, and to let owners know that the restriction was in place, without “going door to door.”
Griswold said that the town would look for clarity on the order from the regional council of governments, state lawmakers and neighboring communities.
The selectmen took no action on that issue at Monday’s meeting.
Griswold said further that residents mostly appear to be abiding by social distancing recommendations, but that he has also heard some complaints of group activity on town beaches.
Beaches in Old Lyme have not been closed, but Griswold said that the town could take that step if the situation requires.
Griswold said that the selectmen will likely have to decide around the end of April if the town will have to postpone its Memorial Day Parade, potentially moving it into the Midsummer Festival. It would be a “shame” to have to postpone it, but Griswold said that circumstances may call for it.
The selectmen approved two capital improvements at facilities that Old Lyme shares with Lyme — $6,100 to install additional cameras at Town Woods Park and $12,500 to install a generator and tank at the Lymes’ Senior Center. Both will be funded by transfers from the town’s building improvement fund.
The cameras are intended to protect the park after previous incidents what appeared to be vandalism, said Griswold. The generators at the senior center would improve that building’s functionality as an emergency shelter, he added.
According to Griswold, these funds will cover Old Lyme’s share of costs for those projects. Lyme will be charged a quarter-share in the next fiscal year, starting July 1, 2020.
Connecticut Water Company has suspended non-emergency construction on their water line updates in Old Lyme amid the coronavirus outbreak, Griswold said.
At the request of the Water Pollution Control Authority, the selectmen approved a $615,200 contract for engineering services by Providence-based firm Woodard & Curran for gravity sewers to be installed in Sound View, Griswold said.
The selectmen discussed an agreement with a consultant to host a Food Truck Festival at Sound View in June. Under the agreement, as explained by Sound View Commission chair Frank Pappalardo, the consultant would receive profits the town made from food trucks renting space on Hartford Ave up to $3,000 total. If the festival made more than $3,000 for the town, the town would keep those profits.
Pappalardo acknowledged that it was possible the festival may need to be cancelled due to the virus, but said “all we can do is work under the premise that things are going to ease up and if they don’t we’ll try it again next year.”
Griswold asked Pappalardo to have a clear answer by the beginning of June on whether the festival will go forward.
Correction: An agreement for a Food Truck Festival at Sound View was discussed, but not approved as was suggested in the original version of this news story.