UPDATE: Petition puts South Portland restrictions on short-term rentals on hold

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Activists on Monday turned in petitions to suspend a land-use ordinance and restrictions on short-term rentals approved last month by the City Council.

City Clerk Emily Scully on Thursday afternoon certified that at least 1,000 of the approximately 1,400 signatures were valid, enough to stop the laws from taking effect.

A final tally will be presented Tuesday, March 20, to the City Council, which must ultimately decide to either repeal the measures or schedule a public referendum on repeal.

Mayor Linda Cohen on Friday said the council will not take public comment on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting. She said there will be two votes, one for reconsideration of the ordiance changes, and a second to postpone discussion to April 3 to give adequate public notice of the agenda item.

Cohen declined to speculate about what the council will ultimately do, although she said the petition and referendum process exists for residents who are dissatisfied with city action.

The collection of signatures was not without conflict: police were called six times last weekend for complaints of harassment from petitioners and others, who claimed they were harassed by those collecting the signatures.

One cease-harassment notice was issued, Police Department Lt. Frank Clark said, although he declined to release the name of the person cited since there was no charge. Clark said the notice informs people of the law and acts as a warning not to continue engaging in the activity.

The Portland Press Herald reported resident Daniel Romano received the warning. A restraining order was also taken out against Romano March 12 by petitioner Michael Frabotta, a clerk at Cumberland County Unified Court confirmed.

Frabotta took out the petition Feb. 27. Last week he said he was prompted to act because the council’s action, scheduled to be fully enforceable June 1, is an attack on homeowners’ rights.

The land-use amendments were approved by a vote of 5-2. The short-term rental ordinance – aimed at services like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway – was approved 6-1. It bans non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, in all areas of the city would still be possible, and non-homeowner-occupied rentals would be allowed only in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods.

Short-term rentals are defined as any stay of 30 days or less.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net.

Updated March 16, 2018.