Regulation is not a dirty word

Nov 19, 2020

Every town in Midcoast Maine should either have a short-term rental ordinance or be working on one.

It is true that we have a long tradition of property owners supplementing their income by renting out a small cottage or outbuilding or summer property they are not using.

However, the situation has changed. It has become known to many who have the means to buy up houses on the scenic coast that the best way to make a profit off those properties is to rent them out by the weekend in fair weather. Too much of that and you miss out on having a nice family as your neighbors, see fewer children enrolled in local schools and lose the much-needed long-term rentals for those who work in our communities.

Rockland saw it coming for their South End and put in place regulations to keep from becoming another tourist trap like Bar Harbor.

Rockport does have a fine sense of local character and is a beautiful community. Efforts by town officials to preserve that are reasonable.

The details of ordinance are certainly up for debate, and it is good to see the active public participation in the process. The current draft of the ordinance seems to be protecting those traditional short-term rentals by owners who live here and placing more regulations on non-owner-occupied properties. There is a logic to that.

The focus of the community should be on creating the best short-term rental ordinance they can, not on arguing against any ordinance.

While we disagree with some of the opposition this has received, we certainly welcome responses in the form of letters to the editor, so send those in!

One argument has been that most people are against it because that is who is speaking at the meetings. Obviously those who are running short-term rentals are going to oppose new regulation. Since ordinances go to the voters in Rockport, this is a non-issue. In the end, it will be decided by the majority of voting citizens.

Another opposing argument is the idea that this violates some sacred property rights. If that’s a battle, it was lost a long time ago. We all live in buildings that have to conform to specific codes, regulations and setbacks set forth by our municipal leaders, past or present.

Zoning is a dirty word to some until the day their neighbor wants to start a factory in his garage, a car lot in his dooryard or a solar power generation project stretched across a roadside field. Without planning and zoning, towns become subject to sprawl and blight. We have seen projects proposed that so devastate a neighborhood that former property rights advocates were openly repentant.

There is a pervasive idea that somehow the new digital communication technology has created a wild west in which anyone with a car is suddenly a taxi company and anyone with a spare sofa is suddenly an inn. However, real bed & breakfasts, inns, hotels and motels have long been highly regulated, and it is unfair to them to not level the playing field in looking at short-term rentals that are proliferating due to the internet age.

Safety, parking, noise, and nuisance are all valid concerns. We agree that concerns about seeing strangers walking around town are not.

At a bare minimum, an ordinance in the town requiring registration that provides more data on this growing industry is valuable.

We do not believe members of the Select Board want to drive short-term rentals out of the community entirely. They just want to make sure they are protecting the town moving forward into the future.

That is their job, and this can be a positive win-win process for all.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: RALPH WALLACE | Nov 21, 2020 15:42

Rockport short term rentals are NOT hurting anyone. There is a "zero" two-year report from the police on STRs asked for by the Rockport BOS. STRs allow citizens over-burdened by taxes to keep their properties. In most cases STRs offer a very different experience from motels and hotels. They offer a very personalized tourist experience that benefits local restaurants and businesses, and in some cases have actually motivated guests to pursue residence in Rockport. And yes, "Rockport is Rockport is Rockport."  It is not Rockland that has experienced a disaster with its overburdensome regulations. And it is not Camden - although the "Camdenization" of Rockport has long been a goal by a curious bunch. Actually, theobsession with STR regulations stems from a few residents, supported by three BOS members, and, frankly, their reasons boil down to snobbery, plain and simple. They complain about the wonderful village vibe being "sold" to people from away, about walking down the streets of quaint Rockport and not being able to recognize passersby. They complain about seeing unfamiliar cars on the streets and driveways. They complain about being uncomfortable with strangers in their neighborhoods. Essentially, this is a complaint about the very essence of tourism, and surely, cannot be a valid reason for taking away a person's property rights. We are in the time of COVID. This is not the time for a solution looking for a problem. This is the wrong time to financially hurt those Rockport citizens who have also helped contribute to that wonderful Rockport village vibe. Yes,   ...  it takes a village ......

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 20, 2020 09:40

I thought this article gave some pros and cons on short term rentals. To sum things up I would say the biggest problem is everybody wants to do what they want and to hell with anyone else. People rented out rooms to people known as "boarders" in the past. Turning this into a business is debatable if nothing else. When I hear the word unique I think of the fellow who told me I was unique, just like everyone else, and to be careful I didn't die of terminal uniqueness.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Nov 20, 2020 09:12

Thank you for writing in Marsha.  I as well was dismayed by the tone and editorial pitch of this "unsigned" piece.  One can only assume this is the position of the management of the paper.  I by no means believe these views are shared by a broad cross section of the community.  If the Courier is going to write an editorial it should be labeled as such and should proclaim "these are the views of the paper" ONLY.

Posted by: Marsha Steinglass | Nov 19, 2020 17:13

I thank the Village Soup for giving me the opportunity to respond to this editorial.  I can only assume that it was written by a member of the staff at the paper, because it is unsigned.

This piece shows the omnipresent lack of statistics, numbers or facts related to this issue that has been habitual in the discussions by the Rockport Select Board from the very inception of their misguided efforts.

I take strong issue from the very first sentence.  Indeed, Rockport is Rockport, is Rockport - a very special and unique place where I chose to settle and raise my family in 1973. Let us all acknowledge what is happening in our world, country, state and town right now.

As today’s New York Times sadly states:” it is a day for dismal records and government disarray”.  As our wonderful local specialists in epidemic immunology, Dr. Eggena and Dr. Liechty, have repeatedly told us, if our children cannot attend school, we cannot work. Right now our schools have a “yellow” designation, indicating an elevated risk of COVID 19 spread. Knox County numbers are above the state average. When we cannot do our work, we cannot earn the money we need to keep ourselves fed and warm, and to pay our real estate taxes.  For the dates November 5-18, we’ve suffered 2,442 cases of COVID and 20 deaths in Maine.  Today Knox County has 61 active cases and reports 3 deaths.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in our State was 9.9% in July, which should be one of our busiest months.  In October, the number of folks involved in the hospitality and leisure industries was 50.7 thousand, down 27.1 thousand from our usual numbers.  The date of these facts is November 18, 2020.  Cut off of federal employments benefits looms for 12 million Americans.

Rather than continue this debate of the pros and cons regarding restricting short term rentals in our town, let’s give cognizance to the fact that this is NOT the right time to curtail the efforts of our townspeople to financially and physically and mentally survive these very challenging times.  For now, we need every resource we can call upon to stay afloat.  Maybe in a year or two, we might decide to revisit this issue, in face to face meetings.  To do otherwise is to turn a deaf ear and a deaf heart to our citizens.

Respectfully submitted, Marsha Steinglass, Rockport




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