South Portland planners: Short-term rental rules shouldn't be ambiguous

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board on Wednesday unanimously recommended restoring ordinance language that identifies specifically allowable property uses.

The board also approved the master plan for an assisted living facility on Running Hill Road.

Members were asked to make a recommendation for the City Council regarding amendments to the draft of a short-term rental ordinance, which had a first reading in June. At that time the council removed licensing and zoning language that said a use was prohibited unless it was expressly listed as allowed.

The board is recommending the language be reinstated. The council must still vote on the issue at an upcoming meeting. 

Planning Board member Linda Boudreau said supports keeping the language because it makes it clear for future issues, characterized by board Chairman Kevin Carr as “unknown unknowns.”

In a successful petition to repeal restrictions that barred non-homeowner-occupied rentals in residential sections of the city, the council was forced to decide whether to take the matter to referendum or to make amendments to the original ordinance. 

The City Council felt the “allowed uses” clause created confusion and decided to strike it from the ordinance. 

Carr said the council should “dig in its heels and exercise some fortitude” in not deleting the paragraph. 

Resident Patricia Morrison, of Preble Street, who opposes non-owner-hosted short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, said she wanted it to be clear the clause does not mean there is more infringement on property owners’ rights.

Planning Director Tex Haeuser said since the 1940s, and regardless of the ordinance language, city staff has operated on the assumption that if a use is not specifically permitted, then it is prohibited.

He said the nature of zoning is to dictate what people can and can’t do with their property, so it is innately restrictive. But zoning also ensures, for example, that a factory is not built in a residential neighborhood. 

“It doesn’t change the practice,” Haeuser said of whether the language is restored or not. 

Board member Katherine Gatti said since short-term rentals are controversial and political, the language is needed to make the city’s intent clear.

Assisted living

In other business, the board also unanimously approved the master plan for an assisted-living and memory-care facility to be constructed at 165 Running Hill Road. 

Confluent Development is proposing a 120-unit facility called Harbor Chase, which will provide 40 residential memory-care units and approximately 80 assisted-living apartments. The building footprint will be 65,000 square feet and the building will include meeting rooms and classrooms, along with a kitchen, dining rooms and service areas. 

Apartments would range in size from 350 square feet to 550 square feet. 

Florida-based Harbor Retirement Associates, which manages about 30 other facilities around the country, would manage the property.

Charles Jennings, of HRA, said South Portland was chosen because of the state’s quality of life, aging population, and statistics that show similar facilities are at capacity. 

“We want to create an environment where people want to live, not where they feel like they have to live,” he said. 

The project still must go through the permitting process. Additional plans will be reviewed by the board before final approval is granted. 

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

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