South Portland delay on short-term rental rules draws ire

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A dozen residents opposed to short-term housing rentals in sections of the city expressed frustration Wednesday because the City Council is delaying a vote on regulating or restricting the businesses.

At a workshop last week, the council decided to hold a fourth workshop later this month on short-term rental regulations or restrictions to gather more information before formally voting on how to resolve the issue that has been a topic of discussion for several months.

In December, councilors said they were set to vote on a first reading of an ordinance Jan. 3. The fourth workshop on short-term rentals is now slated for Jan. 24. 

In December, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny laid out a proposal to restrict and regulate rentals offered on vacation rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, specifically in dense, residential-only neighborhoods like Willard Beach and Loveitt’s Field. 

As of November, there were 282 short-term rentals listed in South Portland, with 75 percent of those listings for entire, non-owner occupied homes. A quarter of the listings were for single rooms within a residence.

The average price for an entire home in South Portland is $124 per night, according to Airbnb.

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 of restrictions argue the ability to rent their properties is a vital piece of supplemental income that supports their children’s college education or funds their retirement. Several residents who rent their properties said they have not heard complaints from their neighbors. 

On Wednesday, Victory Avenue resident Georgia Williamson said she is disappointed the council decided to hold another workshop before voting, saying the rentals violate city code.

It is not a gray area, Williamson said, adding that people in South Portland care about each other, and neighborhoods are meant to be made of homes, not businesses and investments. 

Louise Tate said she has lived in the city for 20 years, and implored the council to protect neighborhoods. She contended that investors should not bully the city to allow rental business, essentially operating what she called boutique hotels from non-owner occupied buildings.

“Please don’t let that happen in our neighborhoods,” Tate said. 

Resident Peggy Fuller said the city has regulations for everything else, from fireworks to bingo, and contended short-term rentals are not legal in the first place. “Do it before the spring, we need our neighborhoods back and we deserve it,” she said. 

Others contended the council could set a dangerous precedent if it continues to allow businesses in non-commercial zones.

But John Murphy, who rents a home on a short-term basis, and is part of an association of short-term rental property owners, said the reason the issue not yet decided is because ordinance language is not clear about whether short- terms rentals are allowed. He said the matter should be addressed in zoning. 

Elm Street parking

The council also heard from several Elm Street residents who said parking has created a potentially dangerous situation through a combination of snowbanks and parking on both sides of the one-way street, creating a  narrow passageway. 

Residents said they fear emergency vehicles would be unable to pass through and suggested parking be restricted to one side of the street, or have commercial parking areas on Broadway to accommodate businesses.

The city manager said he would look into the issue. 

The council also voted to move regular meetings and workshops to Tuesday nights at 7 p.m., from Monday nights. The change was approved to allow councilors additional time to review agenda information and to avoid holiday conflicts that have shifted meetings to later days of the week. 

The change will take effect in February.

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

Elm Street resident Dick Brown addresses the South Portland City Council Wednesday night, Jan. 3, to express concern about parking on the one-way street. 

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