South Portland council prepares to rehash short-term rentals, adopts climate resolve

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors Tuesday night adopted a climate change resolve and were asked again to form a committee to decide how to regulate short-term housing rentals.

Councilors in an April 25 workshop are scheduled to rehash the rental issue, which has divided residents on opposing sides of the debate. A petition submitted last month effectively barred the ordinance from taking effect; it was scheduled to be fully enforceable by June 1. The council subsequently voted to repeal the ordinance and rework the issue rather than putting it to a referendum vote.

John Murphy, a resident and owner of a short-term rental in the Willard Beach neighborhood, implored the council Tuesday to staff a committee, a request he has made in the past.

Murphy also asked the mayor to poll councilors to gauge their individual interest in establishing such a committee, and also suggested the Planning Board could be tasked with appointing committee members. 

Mayor Linda Cohen declined to poll councilors because the topic was not on the agenda and there was no public notice. 

Other speakers said the Town Council is the committee elected to decide important matters and there is no new information about the issue an ad-hoc committee would provide. 

“We could have 10 more workshops and public hearings, and be in the same place,” resident Diane Romano said.

The ordinance, approved 6-1 on Feb. 20, would have banned non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, would have been possible in all areas of the city. Non-owner-occupied rentals would be allowed only in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods.

Short-term rentals are defined as any stay of 30 days or fewer, and have been popularized and promoted by online vacation home rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway.

Without regulation, short-term rentals are allowed throughout the city.

Climate action resolve 

Councilors voted unanimously with the exception of Kate Lewis, who was absent, to support a joint climate action plan with Portland.

The plan aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and have city operations powered by renewable energy by 2040. 

Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach briefed the council on the plan in a previous workshop last month.

The three objectives of the plan include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing for the impact of climate change on coastal communities and building community engagement. 

A 12-member steering committee has been chosen to develop the city’s vision. 

Councilor Eben Rose said he fears people do not understand the enormity of the crisis the city is facing, adding there will need to be a major paradigm shift.

Councilor Sue Henderson said the resolve gives her hope, and although Rose agreed, he questioned whether spending $110,000 for a consultant was necessary. Rose said consulting work addressed in the resolve, such as community outreach and research, could be done in-house within the sustainability office. 

The project has been offered to the city at no charge, although fundraising is taking place. It’s also been proposed that South Portland and Portland commit $110,000 each. 

Rosenbach said she understood Rose’s concerns, adding she would be outlining the department’s capital improvements budget May 3, when the financial resources necessary to implement the plan would be discussed. She clarified that adopting the resolve and appropriating the money are two separate actions; adopting the resolve does not commit the council to contributing the money. 

The climate action resolve and plan comes after the city last July adopted the Mayors Climate Agenda, which follows the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Globally, cities have rallied around the shared objective of keeping global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, preferably no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. As a member of the Climate Mayors, South Portland has pledged to work toward this goal, Rosenbach said last month. 

The main sources of emissions in the city are heating, electricity use and transportation, she said.

According to Rosenbach, the cities will also create parcel-level maps of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a map showing the location and capacity of key assets in the local electric grid. She estimated the project, proposed by Gridsolar and the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, would last about a year.

Lectern dedication

The city on Tuesday also dedicated the council chambers lectern to the late Richard Reed, a parks and recreation employee who worked for the city for three decades.

Reed crafted the lectern and also the city clerk’s desk, which is in use at City Hall. Reed’s widow, Nona Reed, and other family members were present for the ceremony. 

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

South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen, left, Nona Reed and Reed’s son dedicate the City Council lectern Tuesday, April 17, to Richard Reed, a 30-year city employee and finish carpenter who made the lectern. 

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