Home-rental regulations move forward in Cape Elizabeth

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The door remains open to regulating short-term residence rentals after town councilors forwarded proposed zoning amendments in a Monday vote.

The unanimous approval by seven councilors means the Planning Board will now examine proposals to limit the number of overnight guests, require property owners to obtain permits, and meet parking and sewage requirements before renting homes to visitors for stays of fewer than 30 days.

The proposed amendments cover dwellings on lots of 30,000 square feet or less, where the owner is not living at the residence or next door.

Councilor David Sherman said he anticipates presenting the proposed ordinance to the Planning Board on Feb. 27.

But he and Councilor James Walsh emphasized no zoning changes are close to enactment after Monday’s vote.

“This is not a fait accompli that it is done, we are sending it to planning for a fresh set of eyes,” Walsh said.

Once presented to the Planning Board, the proposed ordinance will be subject to a public hearing and possible amendments before it is returned to councilors for an additional public hearing and vote.

Although no public hearing was required before councilors voted, council Chairwoman Sara Lennon invited public comment that quickly established the Pond Cove Park area of town as one where short-term rentals are becoming a long-term headache to some residents.

Pond Cove Park is tucked off Shore Road, roughly across the road from Robinson Woods and notable as the five-mile water stop during the annual TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race.

Sea Barn Road resident Patricia Grennon asked councilors to make the ordinance even more stringent because short-term tenants renting neighborhood properties created a “constant hum of of people, cars and noise.”

Grennon said councilors should reduce the maximum number of short-term tenants allowed to stay overnight, because a dozen people exceeds any definition of “single-family.”

“I challenge you to find one permanent family in Cape with 12 people under one roof,” she said.

Grennon said she understood why some residents have to rent their homes to help pay property taxes, but said more than 1,000 people have been tenants in her neighborhood over the last two years. She said that means some property owners are earning $100,000 or more, far exceeding their tax obligations.

Lawson Road resident Mary Violin, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, said allowing short-term rentals at all is detrimental to property values.

“It legitimizes a business activity which takes from property values and is inconsistent with the true intent of single-family zoning,” Violin said.

Rob Crawford, an attorney with Portland-based Bernstein Shur, spoke on behalf of Lawson Road property owners David Armstong and his sister, Jean Armstrong Taylor. Crawford said the brother and sister, listed as Florida residents on town tax records, do not rent their property with the intent of being bad neighbors.

Crawford, who said the former Cape Elizabeth residents hold the home and neighborhood “near and dear to their hearts,” praised the proposed zoning changes as well-focused and necessary.

Kettle Cove resident and landlord Jim Huebener was the only speaker who opposed adoption of any ordinance at all, although he noted he would be exempt because he lives next to his rental property and his lot size exceeds the maximum size that would be regulated.

Huebener said the zoning changes are unnecessary because of existing noise ordinances and because the codes office logged only one complaint about tenant behavior last year.

Peter Clifford, an attorney who lives on Lawson Road, disagreed with with Huebener about the need for regulating short-term rentals, but asked councilors to incorporate a definition of nuisance behavior for the Planning Board to consider.

In deciding the process of potential regulation should continue, councilors did not amend the proposed ordinance changes, which were crafted after the council Ordinance Committee hosted six public meetings beginning last fall.

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said her support for forwarding the proposed changes overcame her reservations about regulating property rights.

“I am on public record as being very nervous about it,” she said. “We certainly know people who have to rent because they need to pay taxes.”

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

Sidebar Elements

Cape council OKs park bus fees, sewer fee hike

CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors OK’d ways to save money and increase revenues Monday by approving tour bus fees for Fort Williams Park, increases to monthly sewer fees and refinancing municipal bonds initially sold a decade ago.

The unanimous votes on all three items came with little discussion, but could net an additional $25,000 for maintenance at Fort Williams, almost $350,000 to pay for improvements at the water treatment facility off Spurwink Avenue, and potentially save $115,000 in debt service payments, according to Town Manager Michael McGovern.

Beginning this year, tour bus operators will be charged $40 per visit to the park, while some local operators can get a $5 per trip discount by agreeing to pay monthly invoices. Three operators of streetcar-style tour vehicles will pay $1,500 for season-long access.

Beginning March 1, monthly sewer rates will increase to $40 for the first 100 cubic feet of water used. Annual increases will continue through March 1, 2015, when the rate will be $48 for the first 100 cubic feet of water used. Customers will also be assessed increased fees for each additional 100 cubic feet of water used. Next month, the fee will be $5.10, and will increase incrementally to $5.57 in 2015.

The additional revenue will be used to pay for storm overflow mitigation at the plant, owned by Portland Water District. The town share for repairs is estimated to be $2.5 million, and McGovern said funding could also come from $1.8 million to $2 million bond in 2014.

Town debt service could be reduced by $115,000 after councilors voted to refinance $780,000 in municipal bonds issued in 2002. Councilor Frank Governali said reduced interest rates for the new bonds would generate the savings on debt service, but would not affect paying off the bonds and interest in 2022.

— David Harry

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.