South Portland keeps ban on unhosted vacation rentals

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Tuesday adopted revised restrictions on short-term vacation rentals that still ban non-hosted stays in residential neighborhoods.

Councilors also voted to hold moderated community forums on the subject, which continued to be a point of contention among residents at the July 17 meeting.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of a re-crafted short-term rental ordinance, with Councilors Eben Rose and Adrian Dowling opposed.

Short-lived rental restrictions were adopted in February, then repealed in April after opponents collected enough signatures to force the council to revisit the decision.

There are four key changes in the ordinance adopted Tuesday, although it preserves the core of the original restrictions: non-hosted, short-term rentals would still be barred in residential sections of the city.

The amendments allow two adults per room, with a cap of six people in an owner-occupied rental. Owners of apartment buildings with at least four units would be able to rent two apartments for fewer than 30 days, as long as they live in one of the other units, and all short-term rentals would have to be licensed by the city.

The ordinance originally called for the availability of at least four parking spaces to accommodate guests, but a revision approved Tuesday requires owners to identify sufficient on-site parking, and restricts the number of guest vehicles to the number of on-site parking spaces available.

Another amendment allows unattached housing units on the same lot to be considered hosted rentals.

The council dropped language that would have prevented people from renting their homes for a week or two while they are on vacation.

Councilors voted not to add zoning language that would have said if a use is not specifically listed as allowed, then it is prohibited. The city’s Planning Board recommended the language be added back into zoning language, but it was the subject of the petition in February and would have constituted a substantial change that would have pushed the topic to another meeting for ratification.

Councilor Claude Morgan said on a philosophical and practical basis, the language should not be returned to the code because residents are not ready to adopt the change.

People operating short-term rentals would have to be in compliance with the new city regulations by Jan. 1, 2019.

Too late for discussion?

Forums to discuss underlying issues and details of the ordinance will be held on dates to be determined, although residents pushing for dialogue said the opportunity for more in-depth discussion is coming too late, and tension remained between opposing sides.

Peter Anderson and John Murphy told councilors they have been angered because short-term rental operators have been described as  “liars” during the debate.

Diane Romano said there will be no consensus on how to regulate the short-term rental restrictions and further discussion will not change that.

Stephen Thayer, who lives on Oceanview Avenue, said if he wanted to live in a transient neighborhood, he would have settled in Old Orchard Beach.

“I ask the council to again make the courageous decision and take short-term rentals out of the fray and off the table,” he said.

Rose said he was “sadly disappointed with how the process to restrict short-term rentals played out over the past year, and said he has no confidence the issue will be resolved.

He said the ordinance will likely be the target of petitions and the council will have to take up the issue again at a later date.

Rose also said questions about the city’s current codes were not answered by Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett to his satisfaction. He said the city has a problem with codes and licensing, and nobody is clear on what can and cannot be done.

Councilor Kate Lewis said she doesn’t see the issue in terms of who is a nuisance or how the issue affects the economy. She said there are really no sides, and said the one side everybody should be on is creating parameters for a healthy and solid community.

Lewis said the months of discussion and debate have led to a good and comprehensive result that she supports.

According to data from Airbnb, one of the leading vacation rental websites, in 2017 the site had 170 hosts in South Portland who welcomed 11,400 guests, and 4,200 residents have used Airbnb in their own travels.

The average host made $7,900 renting their spaces for about four days a month.

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

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