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Veterans' sanctuary is Preston's first short-term rental applicant

The Day - 11/14/2021

Nov. 14—PRESTON — The first application under the town's newly approved short-term rental zoning regulations would not be for vacationers, wedding guests or casino visitors, and the guests would not pay to stay there.

A Long Island-based nonprofit, Paws of War, has applied for permits to create a veterans' sanctuary at 74 and 76 Branch Hill Road — a bucolic respite for veterans needing a break or visiting Connecticut for services or events.

The organization has contract agreements to purchase the properties and has submitted the town's first short-term rental application to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission will review the plan Nov. 22.

"Our intention is not to go there and open an Airbnb," Paws of War President Robert Misseri said.

Misseri said the nonprofit, founded in 2014, has wanted to establish a veterans' sanctuary in Connecticut and worked with a real estate agent to find the right property. Misseri said they wanted a rural setting, away from city bustle and centered on New London County.

"We fell in love with Preston and the surrounding area," he said.

Paws of War would use the two-bedroom log cabin house and 12 acres of land at 76 Branch Hill Road as the veterans' sanctuary. The group hopes to keep farm animals and have gardens. A small, one-story house at 74 Branch Hill Road would be home for a permanent caretaker for both properties.

Misseri said the group plans to hire a veteran as the caretaker, and to form partnerships with local farmers to help with farming needs and garden plans.

"It will be a serenity feeling," Misseri said, "with a full-time caretaker and animals, horses, sheep, livestock, chickens. We want the farm and agriculture feeling."

Paws of War has five programs centered on service people, first responders and their support animals. The organization started with a mission to rescue dogs and train them as service dogs for veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other issues.

"We have a lot of requests for service dogs in Connecticut," he said. "They're willing to travel to Long Island, but it's not ideal because of training. Our trainers will be going to them. We place a dog and start training with them, and we work through the whole process."

Misseri stressed that no veterans' services would be provided at the sanctuary, and there would be no kennels for service dogs. Veterans' service dogs would stay with them in the house.

Paws of War expanded its services to include War Torn Pups and Cats, a program to assist service people deployed overseas bring home rescued dogs or cats they have adopted. A Veterinary Mobile Clinic Program partners with local veterinarians to bring full-service pet care to veterans, soldiers and first responders who cannot afford veterinary care for their pets.

The group's Rescue Program and Training Program rescues dogs and cats from throughout the country and trains them as service and support animals. The group also trains pets adopted by service members or first responders.

The group's newest program, Pet Therapy, works with veterans and service people with service dogs in local pet therapy programs.

Misseri said the proposed Preston veterans' sanctuary would be another new program. He envisioned guests would stay about one week, and no guests would be charged rent.

"We hope the (Planning and Zoning Commission) sees the benefit for our veterans and first responders," Misseri said. "I hope they see the need and welcome us."

Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said she was contacted by Paws of War before the PZC approved its new short-term rental regulations Oct. 26. She suggested the group submit the town's first application.

"I don't see it as a problem," Warzecha said. "I think it will be a good start to have something small."

The new regulations allow short-term rentals with strict conditions. Guests cannot stay longer than three weeks in any three-month period. No on-street parking will be allowed, no outdoor events, and any rental not owner-occupied must provide a 24-hour contact to the town. Owners must sign a contract with the town governing property maintenance and operational conditions.

"All activities shall be orderly and considerate of all neighboring properties," the regulations state.

Applicants must pay an initial $200 fee, and the property will be inspected by town building official, zoning enforcement officer, fire marshal and Uncas Health District. The owner must apply for renewals annually for a $100 fee.

Warzecha said she found about four or five active Preston short-term rentals online and will contact them about the need to apply for permits. She said the town had received one complaint from a neighbor concerned about frequent turnover at one rental.

No one attended the Oct. 26 public hearing, but Warzecha said she has had several calls from parties interested in applying for a short-term rental permit.

"I'm happy with the way it turned out," Warzecha said of the new regulations. "We worked through all the issues."


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