Planning board declares proposal dead

By Stephanie Grinnell | Nov 15, 2013

Camden — A proposal to allow rental of dwelling units for less than seven days was declared a dead issue by the planning board Nov. 7 following more than an hour of discussion.

Dwelling units are defined in Camden's ordinance as permanent, seasonal or temporary living quarters for one person, or family, at at time with living, sleeping, toilet and cooking facilities. A dwelling unit may not be rented for less than seven consecutive days, according to the ordinance.

The informational meeting came about when Camden resident and Harbormaster Steve Pixley, and his wife Ann, suggested a zoning change to decrease the number of required days for dwelling units. The couple proposed limiting the zoning change to within a half mile of Camden Snow Bowl, which is located in the only Rural-Recreational District in Camden.

Neither of the Pixleys attended the informational meeting.

Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson noted he has been doing his best to track down violators of the seven-day requirement and issuing notices.

"This has been an ongoing issue," Wilson said. "I have been amassing this list for the better part of a year now."

He said the ordinance amendment outlining a seven-day minimum stay for dwelling units was added in 1993; the definition of a dwelling unit has been updated since then and the newest date shows in the ordinance. Wilson noted the most difficult part of the ordinance is enforcement. He said he checks travel websites to make sure owners are not offering less than seven-day stays. Wilson estimated there are less than 30 dwelling units violating the ordinance.

Several residents spoke regarding the proposed change, with several expressing surprise the Pixleys were not in attendance, including Felicity Farrell. She said she has an interest in renting a dwelling unit to guests in the future and has understood the average stay in Camden to be three and a half days. She said any zoning change should extend to Camden Hills State Park and downtown's Harbor Park as well.

At one point, some of those wishing to speak began shouting from their seats, implying proper meeting procedures were not being followed.

"This is very informal tonight," Vice Chairman Lowrie Sargent responded. " ... we're not trying to create an ordinance."

"Excuse the emotion that's felt here from innkeepers," Windward House owner Kristi Bifulco said, adding those business owners only have the one source of income. "Laws are being broken and pieces of the pie are being divvied out unfairly. ... If Camden wants to become a big hotel and forget this quality of life thing, this should go forward."

She said there are plenty of other opportunities for those interested in renting properties without changing the zoning. Per Sargent's request, Bifulco described the numerous regulations and fees required of her business, most of which do not apply to dwelling units.

"[The current ordinance] encourages healthy competition," she said.

Downtown business owner David Dickey said the Internet has changed how people make reservations and choose a hotel. He noted additional expenses incurred at his Riverhouse Hotel are due to an elevator and pool.

"I'm very offended [Steve Pixley] said it's not fair," Dickey said, adding if a zoning change is approved, "everyone with a mother-in-law apartment will start renting. Everybody is fishing for more income."

He noted the increase in property taxes this year equates to 15 full price nights during the summer for his business, while he estimated the impact on Pixley's property at less than $10. He said an ordinance change would not only take away business but also impact his ability to sell the hotel in the future.

Wilson said there are no state requirements outlining a length of stay, "this is a total local ordinance." He said the idea behind the 1990s update was to support downtown establishments by not taking away from their customer base.

"I think it should be tabled, the Pixleys aren't here," Planning Board member Jan MacKinnon said, adding she felt valid points were made and she no longer was sure the issue should move forward.

Planning Board member Richard Householder agreed.

"Changing the existing ordinance doesn't make any sense," he said.

Sargent said if the ordinance change were to be extended a half mile from all recreation areas, the entire town would likely be covered.

"I appreciate the anguish the Pixleys and 26 other people are going through," he said, but " ... we pretty much agree that it's dead for the time being."

Courier Publications Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at sgrinnell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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