The City Council gave preliminary approval Monday night, Jan. 8, to hitting the pause button on additional short-term rentals where the owner does not live in the building.

The council voted 4-1 (Councilor Adam Ackor opposed) at the meeting in favor of imposing a temporary cap of 45 non-owner-occupied short-term rentals. There are currently 41 non-owner-occupied short-term rentals that have received permits from the city, meaning an additional four will be allowed if final approval is given at the council's Feb. 12 meeting.

Councilor Ed Glaser said the cap will not hurt growth, but will allow the recently created city Housing Committee time to do its work.

The Housing Committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17. Mayor Valli Geiger said she is still seeking people to serve on the panel.

The committee would consist of subcommittees to look at issues including the feasibility of converting the McLain School into housing, the possible use of upper floors in downtown buildings,  and reasonable regulations for tiny houses.

Geiger said she has spoken with a number of people, particularly in the South End, who are concerned that their neighborhood is going dark in the winters because residences have been converted into short-term rentals.

Councilor Amelia Magjik said she knows firsthand how rapid turnover from short-term rentals can impact a neighborhood. She said she lives in a six-unit apartment building and there is one unit being rented out and different strangers appear and hang out by her door, park wherever they want and create noise.

"It's good to hit the pause button," Magjik said.

There was opposition to the cap both on the council and from property owners.

Ackor said he opposed both caps and moratoriums to deal with short-term rentals. He said he does not believe neighborhoods are being hollowed out because of these rentals. He said some homes are owned by seasonal residents and others are simply vacant.

He said he favors free enterprise, noting that property owners invest a lot of money to upgrade buildings.

James Leach called the short-term rental cap premature. He said short-term rentals were not the cause of the lack of affordable housing in Rockland.

Stephen Miller, who owns several apartment buildings in Rockland, said he also did not see the connection between short-term rentals and the affordable housing problem.

"The problem in Rockland is that there are not a lot of good-paying jobs. Most jobs in Rockland pay $10 to $15 an hour. These workers can't afford $1,500 a month [for housing]," Miller said.

Polly Saltonstall, who also owns rental properties in Rockland, said the city should try to create incentives for affordable housing rather than capping short-term rentals. She said Rockland depends on tourism and the city should not be turning visitors away by reducing their options for staying in the city.

She said restrictions such as the cap would result in the deterioration of the housing stock.

At the public comment portion of the meeting, there was also criticism of efforts to revise residential zoning laws.

Gary Sousa, who said he manages data collected for the Heart & Soul project, said not one citizen interviewed had expressed a desire for increased residential density or support for tiny houses.

He said 2017 was a year nationally in which elected officials pushed their personal agendas and asked the City Council to hold off on any residential zoning changes until the Comprehensive Planning Commission and Heart & Soul conclude their research.

Cheryl Michaelsen, co-owner of the Berry Manor Inn, said the council is not allowing enough citizen input on zoning changes. She said some of the changes being proposed could affect the way neighborhoods look.

The council gave initial approval Jan. 8 to changes to two zoning ordinances that would allow accessory housing on lots and would reduce lot sizes in transitional business zones. Geiger said the accessory building ordinance was a minor change so that a residence would not have to be physically connected to the main house on the lot.

She said the change to the transitional business zones was a commonsense move, pointing out that residences on Camden Street across from commercial operations are currently restricted to single-family homes. The change she is proposing would allow owners to rent out space.