South Portland councilors want more time to talk about short-term rentals

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors Wednesday night decided they need more discussion on a proposal to restrict short-term housing rentals.

They also reached a consensus on moving their regularly scheduled meetings to Tuesdays.

The workshop on short-term rentals is slated for Jan. 24.

“This is a hot, very hot item,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said. She at first did not want to hold another workshop, but changed her position after three other councilors expressed support for additional discussion. At this time, she added, she does not know how she will vote on the issue. 

Mayor Linda Cohen said short-term rentals are a citywide problem, although they are concentrated in District 1 and the Willard Square, Loveitt’s Field, Meetinghouse Hill and Knightville neighborhoods.

“I don’t want to cram something through,” Cohen said. “I just want to do it right.”

At a meeting earlier this month, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny laid out a proposal to restrict and regulate rentals offered on vacation rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

Proponents of the regulations contend the character of their neighborhoods is diminished by the comings-and goings of short-term renters, and some have said their lives are negatively impacted by the behavior of some renters.

Opponents argue the ability to rent their properties is a vital piece of supplemental income. Several residents who rent their properties said they have not heard complaints from their neighbors. 

Councilor Eben Rose said there are important loose ends to be tied up before the first reading of an ordinance.

“There are some really big loopholes we need to be aware of,” Rose said, citing the need to see specific language. “We don’t have model legislation, so what exactly are we bringing to a first reading, that’s the critical question.”

Lewis said she wants to move quickly on the issue, but supported holding another workshop to look at the whole proposal in case there are lingering questions. 

Moving to Tuesdays

Councilors reached an informal agreement to move their meetings to Tuesday nights beginning in February, and to continue to convene at 7 p.m.

Workshops, held twice monthly at 6:30 p.m., will switch to 7 p.m. to create uniformity and allow more time to review supporting material before the council convenes.

Councilors will vote on the proposed changes at their next meeting, Jan. 3.

The Planning Board will accommodate the council’s change and move its meetings to Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. 

The council time change was suggested by City Manager Scott Morelli after councilors said they sometimes feel unprepared for meetings because they only had the weekend to review background materials. 

Councilor Kate Lewis noted the change will relieve a scheduling conflict with the School Board, which also meets on Mondays. 

A proposal to move council meetings to 6:30 p.m. was rejected, after councilors decided the earlier start time would force them to leave work early.

Mayor Linda Cohen said she prefers having workshops 7 p.m. because it makes it more convenient for the public to attend, or to watch the meetings online. Cohen said she opposes starting meetings earlier in the afternoon, when some town councils in the area convene.

“Nothing says we don’t want public comment or participation more than having early meetings, when people are working,” Cohen said. 

Councilor Claude Morgan noted that several meetings in the last year didn’t end until the early morning, and working on the efficiency of meetings remains an important goal.

“Clearly, we have work to do about reducing that load through innovations and shifting responsibilities,” he said.

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

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