2012-11-23 / Front Page

Compromise a good thing in rental decision?

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — If a good compromise makes neither party happy, then the short-term rental provisions now in place as part of Cape Elizabeth’s zoning ordinance is likely to be a good compromise.

An ongoing debate that started more than a year ago came to a close, temporarily, on Wednesday, Nov. 14, when the Cape Elizabeth Town Council decided it would enact changes proposed by the town’s ordinance committee to govern short-term rentals in the community. Councilors Jim Walsh, David Sherman and Kathy Ray served as the 2012 representatives to the committee that drafted the ordinance.

The new short-term rental policy takes effect Friday, Dec. 14. Anyone who rents a property for more than two weeks a year, for a period less than 30 days, will have to obtain a permit from the town, and follow a few other guidelines as established in the ordinance. The permit fee will likely be established at the council’s Dec. 10 meeting.

Properties rented out on a short-term basis also will have a list of standards to adhere to in order for owners to receive a permit. Many of those requirements are already in place — the properties must meet code, provide an evacuation plan, etc. — but some are specific to short-term rentals.

For example, smaller lots in densely populated neighborhoods will only be able to accommodate a certain number of tenants. Properties on lots smaller than 30,000 square feet are not allowed to house more than eight tenants, with no more than two short-term renters per bedroom.

The ordinance instituted a “three strikes” rule for any property owners in violation of the short-term rental ordinance. One violation will result in a letter from the code enforcement officer, the penalty for a second violation is a suspension of the short-term rental permit, and, upon the third violation, the permit is revoked for one year.

The issue of short-term rentals came up in Cape Elizabeth in fall 2011, when residents on Lawson Road came to town government with concerns about an adjacent property that was housing large groups of people who, area residents said, would park multiple cars on the street, block traffic and make noise into the late hours. Some properties in town, including the house at 31 Lawson Road that sparked the discussion, have been advertised on vacation website HomeAway.com to rent for a night, a week or a month.

“Compromise” was a word that councilors and residents on both sides of the much-talked-about issue frequently used throughout the discussion Wednesday. Residents who wanted the zoning changes still thought it didn’t go far enough, while those that rented out their properties thought the new measures were overly punitive.

“Compromise is going to be the only way we move forward on this issue,” said Lawson Road resident Jennifer Aronson.

Aronson wanted the language of the town ordinance to differentiate between what rights property owners had to rent out their homes against what rights a third party had to do the same. But Aronson said she was willing to accept what the council and ordinance committee had worked out in the language of the new ordinance.

Local landlord Jim Huebner was not in favor of the ordinance. The Kettle Cove resident said the problem in town was limited to a restricted area, Lawson Road. He suggested mediation between neighbors and the property owner may be a better solution than an ordinance change, which would needlessly affect property owners and landlords over the entire town.

“You’re trying to control behavior and it doesn’t work,” Heubner said.

The council discussed specific issues in the language of the ordinance, including some brought up by residents, but agreed ultimately to adopt the ordinance as the committee recommended, then return to any issues or tweaks in a year.

Council Chairman Sara Lennon felt the council’s best way forward would be to adopt the zoning regulations and then revisit the ordinance at a later date, rather than spending a long time at the meeting making changes.

“We’ve all agreed, as the people said, this a compromise for everyone,” Lennon said. “Why don’t we make a commitment to watch this over the course of a year, and then in a year’s time tweak it.”

The council will look mostly the same next year for the scheduled review of the ordinance. The only councilor whose term does not run through next year is Lennon, who chose not to run for re-election and will be replaced by local attorney Jamie Wagner. Walsh agreed with Lennon’s approach.

“We’re not going to let this just sit out there. If we have new information, we’re going to come back in and revisit this,” Walsh said.

The council voted 5-1 to enact the ordinance changes, with Ray absent. Councilor Caitlin Jordan was the lone vote against the change.

Jordan took issue specifically with the provision that limited the number of short-term renters property owners of small lots could allow in their homes, which she called “ridiculous.”

“These things are just restrictive to the property owners in town,” Jordan said.

“It’s an overreaching fix, what we’re putting on the town right now.”

Return to top