Freeport more than doubles fines to quiet short-term renters

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FREEPORT — The Town Council on Tuesday more than doubled fines for noise ordinance violations.

The council also added a $20,000 request from the Arts and Culture Alliance of Freeport to the town’s proposed Capital Improvements Plan to fund a part-time coordinator position, but not without resistance from some councilors.

The Loitering, Curfew & Noise Ordinance maintains a fine of no more than $100 for violating the loitering and curfew portions, but now makes first-time noise violations in a one-year period punishable by a civil penalty between $250 and $500.

Each additional violation within the year will result in a fine of at least double the amount of the previous fine.

Any subsequent violations beyond three within a one-year period constitute a nuisance, subject to “injunctive relief,” or requested court-action.

A police officer will issue the summons, Town Manager Peter Joseph said, but it would be up to a judge to decide what the appropriate fine would be, based on the circumstances of the violation.

The ordinance also states that each day a noise violation is reported will be considered a separate violation and may be punished separately.

Discussion of the town’s noise ordinance was spurred by noise complaints from residents who live near short-term housing rentals, mostly in in densely populated residential zones.

The amendment allows fines to be assessed against the property owner, rather than the individual creating the violation, if necessary.

Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy said the action is aimed at a small number of “problem properties.”

“This adds a little bit of leverage against someone who might not be monitoring their property,” Tracy said.

Joseph said the town has received noise complaints from neighbors of homes near the water on Lower Flying Point Road, where at least three properties used for bachelor parties, weekend getaways, and other events have been reported more than once.

Councilor Lee Arris was the only councilor opposed to the amendments, which passed 6-1. He said noises added as exempt from potential fines, such as those made by construction or demolition equipment, timber harvesting, and domestic power equipment, were unnecessary.

These exemptions apply during “daytime hours,” or between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Sunday.

ACAF request

The town’s proposed fiscal year 2019-2023 Capital Improvements Plan will be put to a vote on April 24. The plan shows how much money is anticipated to be spent each year on police, fire and rescue, public works, solid waste management and municipal facilities, among other things.

A motion to include the Arts and Culture Alliance of Freeport’s request for funding in the plan barely passed, 4-3.

After spending the last two years drafting their first Cultural Plan, which cost $20,000 in consulting fees – half fundraised, half matched by the town – ACAF said the next step is to add a part-time paid coordinator to its team of volunteers.

If officially adopted later this month, the funds would come from the town’s Destination Freeport Tax Increment Financing District, whose goal is to improve town facilities, services, infrastructure, entertainment opportunities, and economic development.

Along with improving communication between the alliance and community, and helping compile a directory of Freeport’s cultural assets, part of the coordinator’s job description would be exploring funding mechanisms to allow the alliance to carry the position over into following years without assistance from the town.

ACAF representatives stressed that this would be a one-time ask, or a “jump-start.”

ACAF Board President Jane Bradley said that a coordinator is “key” to bringing the goals of the Cultural Plan to fruition.

Some councilors were concerned about whether the alliance had considered all other possible options for the position, including raising the funds privately or using the Freeport Economic Development Corp. for the tasks.

Councilor Melanie Sachs said she supported the concept. But she voted against the allocation, saying that for “consistency sake,” ACAF should meet the same conditions – a solid plan for the position and written job description – as other organizations that have come before the council.

Councilors Douglas Reighley and Scott Gleeson also voted against the request. Councilors Eric Horne, Arris, John Egan, and Tracy were in favor.

“This is an act of faith,” Horne said. “… I think it’d be an opportunity lost if we didn’t do this.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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