South Portland council sets meeting to reconsider short-term rental rules

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council next month will reconsider restrictions on short-term housing rentals, either by repealing the new rules or sending them to a June referendum. 

Councilors on Tuesday also unanimously amended an ordinance to now require permits for nighttime construction.

The council will take action on the short-term rental ordinance at a public hearing April 3. The delay will allow for proper public notice of the hearing. 

The ordinance, approved 6-1 on Feb. 20, bans non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, would still be 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 less, and have been popularized and promoted by online vacation home rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

The issue has created sharp divides between residents on opposing sides of the debate. A petition submitted Monday with 1,200 signatures effectively barred the ordinance from taking effect; it was scheduled to be fully enforceable by June 1. 

Police were called six times for harassment complaints while petitioners were gathering signatures.

Michael Frabotta, who initiated the petition, on Monday told councilors he is concerned about his family’s safety, and now does not feel comfortable allowing his children to play outside his Preble Street home because of the hostility the process created. But he added he also met many good people throughout the process.

Frabotta said he initiated the petition to give city voters more of a voice and decision-making power. He criticized the process the council took to decide the matter, and said holding off on enactment is an opportunity to form a committee to discuss the issue and also to allow the council to attend a Maine Municipal Association meeting on short-term rentals next month. 

Resident Peter Stanton, who supports the restrictions, said petitioners disseminated false information and used scare tactics to get people to sign the petition. He said neighboring cities and towns have similar zoning language in place.

“The codes are to protect our rights, and they made it into an argument about property rights that were never in trouble,” Stanton said. 

Former City Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis said if she disagreed with everything the council did she would spend all her time collecting signatures. But said she doesn’t because she respects the process.

“We are here to support you and defend your work,” DeAngelis told the council. “Let it go to referendum.”

Frabotta, who does not operate a short-term rental, said his overriding concern is increased control the city will have over the way owners use their property. He took particular issue with an amendment to Chapter 27 of the city’s land use ordinance, which says a use is prohibited unless it is specifically listed as allowed. 

But the city’s planning director, Tex Haeuser, said in an earlier interview that the amendment does not change how the ordinance has been interpreted. Haeuser described it as more of a housekeeping item, as suggested by the city’s attorney, Sally Daggett, and is standard language in zoning ordinances.

Councilors Eben Rose and Adrian Dowling voting against the measure when it passed, but Rose said he will not be able to attend the April 3 public hearing on the matter.

Night construction

The council also passed amendments to an ordinance that mean a city permit is now required for construction between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. A permit is not required for emergency work, but city staff must be notified. 

For nighttime construction proposed in all residential zones or within 300 feet of all residential zones, there will be additional review standards relating to noise, traffic impact and safety, and other factors.

Abutters within 500 feet must also receive notice at least three days prior to the start of construction. 

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

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