2012-06-22 / Front Page

Cape official wants to ban rentals in town

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Cape Elizabeth residents vented their frustrations with some short-term renters in a public hearing in front of the planning board on Tuesday, June 20.

Many of the unhappy residents came from the denselypopulated Pond Cove and Peabbles Cove neighborhoods. They said they are upset with short-term renters drinking, shooting off firecrackers and throwing loud parties without regard for neighbors who live in the community year-round.

The planning board ultimately recommended a number of changes to the zoning ordinance. It proposed changing the minimum amount of time a guest can rent a house in Cape Elizabeth from three days to seven days, hoping this would cut down on guests who would rent a house in town to host a party over a weekend.

Members also suggested that short-term rental houses be required to provide one parking spot for every two residents or guests in a house, down from four, in hopes of eliminateinglarge parties in small spaces.

Finally, the board supported the reinstatement of a rule that enforces stricter regulations on lots smaller than 30,000 square feet. The planning board reasoned that smaller lots would be more likely to upset neighbors close by, while larger lots should not be held to the same standard because they are farther away from their neighbors.

Many residents who spoke at the public hearing were most concerned with the nuisance short-term renters cause. Lawson Road residents were particularly upset by one incident in May. They said a group of 11 men from Massachusetts came to Cape Elizabeth for a bachelor party, which included fireworks, loud music at late hours and cars parked on the street blocking traffic.

David Volin of 17 Lawson Road worried about the increasing number of rental properties he has noticed in his neighborhood.

“There is nothing to stop this trend,” Volin said. “There is no law that says that one person, for example, with a lot of money, can’t come in and literally buy one house after the other until you’ve got a carnival neighborhood like Old Orchard Beach. There is nothing to prevent that.”

Volin’s neighbor, 13-year-old Hans Croft, added he was “amazed by all of the unfamiliar faces” he sees on his street now.

Some members of the public did express an opposite viewpoint at the public hearing. Edward Perry, who owns a rental home at 6 Tucker Lane, said it’s hard to know which renters will be a nuisance, because “five people can be more obnoxious than 10 people. The number of people in the building really doesn’t address the problem.”

Perry said he does his best to eliminate rowdiness by thoroughly screening renters and asking for a security deposit.

Mallory Marshall of 340 Ocean House Road added, “It seems hard for me to understand how this would not infringe on property rights unless (the planning board) is very, very careful.”

The majority of residents at the hearing were mostly concerned with how to keep peace and quiet in their neighborhoods. But even those frustrated with short-term renters sympathized with residents in town who might need to rent their homes in the summer to keep making mortgage payments.

“I’m not suggesting we don’t let people rent. I’m suggesting balance,” said Sea Barn Road resident Patty Grennon.

Internet technology is one factor that has made it easier for potential renters to find a short-term home in Cape Elizabeth. The website HomeAway.com currently lists 26 vacation rentals available in town, including a handful in the highly concentrated Pond Cove and Peabbles Cove areas. The prices of those vacation rentals range anywhere from $150 a night to $12,000 a week.

The planning board was sympathetic to the problems of the residents who spoke at the public hearing. Planning Board member Liza Quinn even considered an outright ban of short-term rentals.

“I don’t feel (allowing rentals) is the right thing. And I also think we need to give investors regulatory certainty. People need to know what is the landscape. Can they invest in this land or not?” Quinn said.

Quinn’s comments drew a round of applause from the crowd, but not a consensus from the rest of the planning board.

Planning board member Carol Anne Jordan said many of the problems residents had with short-term renters were already against the law, and she urged residents to go to the Cape Elizabeth Police Department when they notice illegal activity.

“I’m appalled by all these things. I’m appalled. I would be so upset that I’d be in (Police Chief) Neil Williams’ office wanting to know why they’re not taking care of it,” Jordan said.

Town Manager Maureen O’Meara added that the planning board’s purview was the zoning ordinance, and any changes to the definition of a nuisance would have to be done through a recommendation to the town council, a road she suspected the planning board wouldn’t want to go down.

The process of completing the final zoning ordinance is far from over. Planning board Chairman Elaine S. Falender called Tuesday’s public hearing a “middle step” in the process. The next step is for Tuesday’s proposed changes to go back to the town council for further review.

Return to top