Rockland council gives initial OK to cap on short-term rentals

By Stephen Betts | Jan 08, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts

Rockland — 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.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | Jan 09, 2018 20:30

Frances: Come on, you really think that the folks go poking around your neighborhood? Call the police if it is that bad that you think we need the intrusive big brother to pave the way for us to pick and choose for you who your neighbors are. If they are form away the best thing you can do is introduce yourself, make new friends, and convince them that they, too, might want to live here. Have you not ever heard of the saying:"love they neighbor"? I can not for the life of me understand why you or anyone else thinks it is your duty, or theirs, to choose your neighbors. This makes for a very unfriendly situation if you are going to dislike people just because they are only there for a short time. Some long term neighbors should move more often, maybe. New neighbors make new friends. Has anyone of them every stolen anything from you, assaulted you, harmed you in any way? Perhaps not. Locals do that, read the court news. These folks from away come here, let's say for two weeks, or three weeks. They may buy more groceries then we might in the same period of time. They will mostly, I assume, eat out and give the restaurants more business than the locals. They may buy more "art" than the locals. They may visit the museums more than we do. There is a value to be reckoned with by these folks. Who says that your next door neighbor is always going to like you, whether or not you like them. And, they can make life miserable for long periods of time. I am tired of people who always want life to be to their design and not accept that we are all different and if you are not happy with me or what I write, please stay away or don't read it. Freedom of speech is one of the most valuable freedoms we have. But, being able to accept other people and being able to accept how others live their lives is paramount. Investing in real estate is ancient. Renting real estate is ancient. Do you think that all the landlords in town have the tenants that you might approve of? I doubt it. But, they will continue to rent to them because they make money on their investment. Long term ownership or rental does not make a perfect world. Next time, someone moves in next door go greet them, learn where they are from, and welcome them to Rockland and the State of Maine. I do and have for 35 years right here. I have not be shot at, robbed, or beat up by any of them. And none of them go poking around my property. Lest they might be surprised. As for my comments about the my feelings for city government: come and see me and I will explain. An open invitation, call first.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Jan 09, 2018 20:06

Valarie: Mount Demo is the newly formed mountain of demolition debris collecting at the site of the Rockland Landfill that has been given away by the City Council, City of Rockland in a "sweetheart deal" at the most unbelievable "prices". This is a collection of the waste from out of state, in state and even from Canada inclusive of building materials that encompass the general collective terms used for tearing down buildings. Materials I am sure those parties are thankful to get rid of in their "backyards". Rockland was happy to accept this sweetheart deal so that we could hurry to fill the quarry (ies) and make the DEP happy. Notwithstanding the fact that this will cost us Rockland taxpayers, local contractors, and associated users increased fees and restrictions in the future. We will be burdened with the final closure costs (whether or not the State chips in is to be seen)and the maintenance of this gas erupting and stinking spew of molten lava like who knows what that might erupt in the middle of the night into a giant bloom of nails, boards concrete and who knows what. Not to mention all the materials that the sea gulls missed having carefully dined on whatever is in the world of demo that they like to eat. I would like to see it turned into another ski slope so that we can boost that we used the area to the greatest advantage, notwithstanding that we will be trucking our trash away with no more "quarry" benefit. Imagine the increased costs. Oh and most likely our dump stickers will be $500 by the year 2020, just a prediction. We surely need to thank the DEP, and public works for their fine planning, implementation and continue support in raising our taxes.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Jan 09, 2018 11:09

K, I am missing something.  Second reference I have read on VS about MT. Demo.  What the heck is it.


Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 09, 2018 07:44

Dale, isn't it time you let go of your vendetta against the City. Not all people want strangers poking around their neighbourhood all summer. Stephen Miller is an excellent landlord but that doesn't mean I should have to live among tourist so he can line his pockets.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Jan 09, 2018 07:08

Richard you get the warm fuzzy award for the day. It sounds to me like selective government all over again. There is nothing to be gained here after reading the comments in the article from people who were interviewed. This, nor any other council should not be able to dictate what a person can or should do with their property if they pay their taxes and follow NORMAL rules and ordinances. Placing a cap on 45 is like picking a number for the fun of it. If there were already 60 I suppose they would pick 62 or whatever. This is overstepping what I believe is the power and purpose of this city government. Next they will be limiting the number of lawn mowers on your property, or they will move public works to Mt. Demo. When is the ski slope going to open? Much higher and we will be able to see Mt. Washington from here.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jan 09, 2018 01:23

Open letter to Rockland City Council:

Congratulations on your amicably working towards resolution of situations before they become problems while addressing other issues  that have been talked about for years with no action.

I am no Pollyanna who looks at everything through rose colored glasses, yet have been around long enough to see what can be accomplished working together for the common good.

It appears more people are stepping forward to offer healthy solutions instead of just being negative. 

Each of you are in my prayers the first thing every morning and will remain there.

Respectfully and sincerely,

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