Cape Elizabeth Planning Board sends home rental rules to Town Council

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Code inspections, limiting the number of tenants and guests, parking plans and annual licensing are all elements of proposed short-term rental regulations unanimously recommended by the Planning Board on Tuesday.

After a four-hour meeting that included a 75-minute public hearing, the board forwarded its draft of zoning ordinances to the Town Council for more deliberations and hearings.

While the vote was unanimous, Planning Board Chairman Elaine Falender said it reflected “a wide diversity of opinion on the board. It was a compromise that seemed the best way to move forward.”

Town Manager Michael McGovern said the council will receive a Planning Board report next month for consideration, but has not scheduled any action on the rental regulations.

Falender reminded the audience Tuesday that the recommended ordinance is “a middle step” in a process that began last fall. The Planning Board received a draft of a Town Council ordinance in February.

Planning Board members recommend requiring property owners who rent residences for terms of 30 days at a time or less and more than 14 days a year to obtain annual permits from the code enforcement officer. The permit would be issued after an initial inspection and inspections would be required every five years. Safety requirements would include posted exit routes, and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Board revisions approved Tuesday increase the minimum number of days a residence can be rented on a short-term basis from three to seven. On rental properties with lots smaller than 30,000 square feet, the proposed ordinance limits overnight tenants to eight and the number of guests visiting, but not staying overnight, to eight.

The number of tenants staying at properties on lots larger than 30,000 square feet is governed by the capacity of the waste-water system and parking requirements of space for one vehicle for every two tenants or guests. The parking must be on site or at a documented off-site location. The ordinance limits the number of guests visiting the larger properties to 15.

While working through a 16-page document, board members grappled with their role in preventing noise, parking and nuisance complaints that came largely from residents of the enclave of houses on Sea Barn and Lawson roads.

The board could not address town nuisance laws because they do not involve zoning.

“If the ordinance is not up to task, it is not the job of the Planning Board to beef it up,” Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said.

Early in the deliberations, board member Liza Quinn called for a total ban on short-term residence rentals on properties smaller than 30,000 square feet. Board member Victoria Volent agreed, but the majority did not favor an outright ban.

With five residences available for short-term rentals in the area of Lawson and Sea Barn roads, residents of the neighborhood off Shore Road asked for specific restrictions on the smaller lots.

Lawson Road residents Peter Cooper and Jennifer Aronson said noise and traffic problems returned earlier this month when a home was rented to about 10 people for a bachelor party weekend.

Both residents provided accounts of alcohol abuse and said celebrants set off fireworks around 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday, but Aronson said she only called police because the renters clogged the road with parked vehicles.

Board members Henry Steinberg and Carol Ann Jordan said neighbors dealing with problems like these should not hesitate to call police.

“I would be in (Police Chief) Neil Williams office wondering why they are not taking care of this,” Jordan said.

Board members eliminated lot size from the ordinance shortly after it was received from councilors, and Steinberg said he still considered it an arbitrary “line in the sand.”

“It is inappropriate and really punitive” to include larger properties, Lawson Road resident Julie Armstong said.

Among the 18 speakers during the hearing were Kettle Cove Road resident Jim Huebener and Becky’s Cove residents Tom and Sandy Dunham, who reminded the board the safety clauses in the proposed ordinance were already required by private insurance companies.

A memo to Planning Board members from Town Planner Maureen O’Meara estimates the cost of hard-wiring a residence for smoke and carbon monoxcide alarms is about $1,000. Dunham said his own research indicates battery-operated alarms are as effective, as long as a property owner is vigilant about changing batteries.

Huebener, Dunham and Old Ocean House Road resident June Eiesland said the proposed ordinance could harm property values while doing little to address the basic behavior problems caused by some renters.

“It adds time, cost and no value,” Huebener said.

Arguments about property values and being vigilant about bad behavior were turned on their head by David Voline and his wife, Mary.

The couple said quality of life and their real estate values were harmed by having unregulated short-term rental units in their neighborhood.

“My only right is supervising behavior and calling police,” Mary Voline complained.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.