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Residents speak out against short-term rental ordinance

Select board discusses draft
By Daniel Dunkle | Nov 11, 2020
Mark Kelley

Rockport — The Rockport Select Board heard from a number of residents who oppose plans for an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals in the town.

The board discussed the current draft of the ordinance during its Nov. 9 online meeting, and residents were allowed to make comments on the proposal.

The ordinance provides for grandfathering existing rentals as long as they adhere to parking rules and any subdivision covenants.

The concern is not as much about residents who live on-site and rent out a room or cottage for extra income.

There are complaints about non-owner occupied short-term rentals and this draft focuses primarily on those, according to a document included in the meeting packet. Those favoring regulating the rentals raise concerns about people outside the area buying properties just to rent them out, and what that will do to the sense of neighborhoods in the community. In addition, it is more difficult to deal with noise or parking problems with an absent owner.

The proposed ordinance would require short-term rentals to be registered with the town, pay a $50 fee, and places limits on the numbers of rentals any one owner can have.

Select Board Chair Debra Hall said it includes a moratorium on new short-term rentals for two years to allow the town to assess where it is at in terms of these properties. It will have more data once they are registered.

Non-owner-occupied short-term rentals have to be rented for a minimum of seven consecutive nights or stay vacant for the remainder of the seven nights after the renter has departed. The ordinance also includes limits on the number of persons per room.

The purpose of the ordinance includes leveling the playing field for these short-term rentals with inns, hotels and Bed & Breakfasts, which are more heavily regulated already. In addition, the town needs long-term rentals, which may not be as profitable, to serve people working in the area.

The ordinance was drafted by Ordinance Review Committee member Bob Hall (who is married to Debra Hall), Select Board member Denise Munger and Debra Hall, and the attached document notes “each of these individuals are attorneys with expertise in drafting regulations and laws."

Select Board member Mark Kelley argued the meetings on this topic should be held “in person,” not online.

He questioned whether there had been any complaints to police about short-term rentals in particular. Told that police reports on noise, etc. are not broken out to show whether it is a short-term rental, he asked if the police chief could find out if there had been any such complaints since September 2019 when discussions of the ordinance had begun.

Hall asked that the focus be on this draft of the ordinance. She said this is not a workshop on whether board members like or do not like short-term rentals.

A number of residents spoke about the ordinance in the meeting and Kelley would say at the end, by his calculations, that 11 spoke against the ordinance, eight were in the middle of the road, and three spoke in favor.

Tim Montague said he has non-owner-occupied rentals, but he has a professional management company to handle any concerns about the property. He said he pays taxes and does not understand the distinction between himself and an owner-occupied rental.

Doc Wallace said this was something that three select board members want and it is coming in June. He said he was strongly opposed to the ordinance because it violates property rights.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” he said.

He also argued people were just trying to pay their property taxes through the rentals.

When Hall told him his three minutes to speak were up, he complained, “You can talk forever and we can’t talk.”

Clare Tully argued this should be tabled until after the pandemic as it would hurt people who are already struggling financially. She also said there is a stated fear of investors buying property to operate short-term rentals, but real estate agents are not seeing that. She and others called for more specific examples of the problems with the rentals that proponents are talking about.

Other residents said there does need to be some regulation in the community to prevent a proliferation of Airbnbs.

On the town website, numerous comments about the issue can be found along with the draft of the ordinance and other information.

The select board did not take any votes on the ordinance as it was just a discussion item.

Doc Wallace
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Comments (2)
Posted by: John Viehman | Nov 11, 2020 17:57

The following letter was submitted to the Rockport Select Board Chair and the other SB members following this meeting:

Hi, Debra.

I wasn’t aware that there was going to be a discussion of STRs on the agenda for last night’s meeting, and I only received a copy of the draft ordinance an hour beforehand. So I’m sorry I couldn’t reserve a place to comment via ZOOM (despite my best efforts to contact Diane Hamilton, per the instructions).

I’ve already submitted my concerns in writing to the SB but you’ll find them attached once again just in case they haven’t made it into your stack of reading material. As you’ll recall, my concerns focus on what type of community we’d like to provide for our residents in the face of an obvious and rapidly growing trend for STRs.

I would add a couple additional points about last night’s meeting:

  • To SB Kelley’s comments that very few residents showed up to voice support for STR regulations:
    • Consider the difficulty in navigating the logistics in our meeting formats, and how challenging it is to access the ZOOM format, as opposed to showing up at the start of the meeting in person.
    • Making conclusions about the “importance” of a given issue based on how many people speak for/against any given issue at any given meeting is not a statistically viable method for polling or surveying. In fact, it’s well proven that those with an immediate short-term interest will speak up in far greater numbers than those with a long-term interest. Clearly STR owners have a vested interest in opposing something that potentially impacts their pocketbooks and business interests. There are many parallels in our society to this phenomenon (e.g., residents opposed to tax increases, zoning ordinances, etc.)
    • I believe it was your response that it’s very uncomfortable for neighbors to speak up in public about the STR issue, simply because it literally pits neighbor against neighbor in an increasingly polarized world. Speaking from my personal experience, I’ve struggled in my relations with my two neighbors as a result of this. It wasn’t my intention to question their rights. They bought what they bought at a time when there wasn’t an ordinance in place. I get that. I accept that. But that doesn’t mean allowing an open field day on STRs throughout the Town is good practice or policy. The fact remains that there is an obvious and growing trend. It’s obvious just based on the number of STR owners that are showing up at these meetings. It’s palpable if you just walk a street in the Village especially.
  • My concern continues to be about the long-term impact on our “community.” None of the STR owners appear to factor this into their equations. None speak about the quality of life and preserving that in our special piece of Maine—the very community itself, created by the people who live and work her, that make visitors want to come again and again. None refuted the categorization of STRs as Commercial use. Yet they insist on their right to conduct Commerce in zones clearly marked for Residential Use only. I find it interesting that many of these same people are the first to stand up (and even hire lawyers) to oppose a small hotel in the Downtown District, where it’s allowed usage under the LOU. To call this a “representative” sampling is simply absurd, frankly.

To the draft ordinance:

  • This is a great start at crafting language to address my concerns. I especially commend those selfless volunteers who took the time and applied their considerable expertise and talents to create this “draft” STR ordinance. It’s unfortunate that many of the speakers last night didn’t understand how the process works, and that, quite simply, this is only the beginning. It’s a good one. But it’s only the beginning. From here, we at least have something tangible that people can focus on to have a meaningful conversation and move us forward to a reasonable (read: compromise) conclusion. To question anyone’s intent after they’ve spent their highly-qualified skillsets and hours of their time bringing us to this point is simply unfair and offensive.
  • I did hear some good suggestions on adjustments, among them:
    • Adding an inheritance clause.
    • Reducing the number of minimum nights (this isn’t my preference as a Resident but it’s a reasonable compromise). A 5-night minimum would effectively accomplish the same thing and I believe aligns with Rockland’s ordinance.
    • Doing further research on the best way to assess STR income (e.g., AirBnB takes care of state taxes, etc.)
    • While I hadn’t thought of it, fire pits are an attractive nuisance and only encourage after hours gatherings that invariably grow in volume, so setbacks make sense.
    • Extending the time for garbage removal (this is Maine, after all), but I would ask that STR renters do NOT place their garbage bins out at the curb. It feels too much like suburbia and not a Village, plus I’ve observed that the garbage bins often sit empty or full for days before/after pickup.
  • Aspects I appreciate in the draft include:
    • Distinction between Owner-Occupied and Non-Owner-Occupied. Heads off a host of issues, including speculative real estate investing.
    • Allowing more STRs for Rockport Residents supports local management and accountability.
    • Clearly distinguishing that STRs constitute “Commercial Use.” This gives the Town as well as the Planning Board clear guidance for both enforcement issues and individual exceptions (aka, Conditional Use) going forward.
    • Off-street Parking Requirements. We’re past due to require this for STRs.
    • Moratorium of two years after enactment... gives us the necessary time to see what we have (good and bad) and amend Ordinances and practices accordingly.
    • Display of STR use. I would presume we would do this via window sticker, which gives another way to assess the volume of usage.
    • Signage restriction. I’m not wild about encouraging signage for STRs, since it emphasizes the “emptying out” of some neighborhoods, which can impact resale values, among other less tangible values (aesthetics). Perhaps there is a way to standardize the design so it’s more uniform and, presumably, less obnoxious to the neighbors and passersby.
    • Grandfather of existing STRs, with no ability to “sell.” Helps current owner(s) but precludes making STRs a long-term business investment (i.e., building equity based primarily on STR aspects in a Residential District).
    • Placing a “cap” on STRs. This just makes good sense to ensure there’s a balance of Commercial activity and to ensure we can have a benchmark to assess/regulate community impact. After all, there is a finite “carrying capacity” to STRs. Ultimately we can rely on the Comp Plan and other community conversations to guide us on making adjustments going forward.
    • Responsible Agent. Having someone available to be responsive and/or on location within a reasonable time assures issues can be addressed quickly and effectively. Can we require that the contact info be shared with abutters?
    • Strict penalties for non-compliance assures STR owners take this ordinance seriously. We’re either all in or there’s no reason for the ordinance.

Again, I want to commend you for tackling this prickly issue. You’ve conducted yourself in a civil and respectful manner, moving with purpose and consideration of all residents. We’re fortunate to have your leadership and that of other SB members on this issue.



John Viehman

Posted by: Melissa MacCoole | Nov 11, 2020 17:25

There have been two meeting about STR with the people who have interest in this matter. In both meetings the majority of the people said that they did not want an ordinance. In the first meeting one person want an ordinance and seven did not. In the second meeting 12 people did not want a ordinance and 3 did. In a democracy there would not be an ordinance. The select board members (Hall, Munger and Mr. Hall) have decided that they want to continue with making a new ordinance even if the majority of the people say they don't want one. The writers of the new ordinance are Hall, her husband Mr. Hall and Munger and nobody from the STR side. They have assured us that everything is fine as they are all lawyers.

Rudy Giuliani is a lawyer, what could go wrong here?  Our Select board is made up of people who listen to the citizens

and other who do not. We do not want an ordinance. We have and will do fine without one.  An ordinance is not the answer

to your hurt feelings problem and we don't want one!  Think About!    Jeff MacCoole, who is not a lawyer.

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