Town Council Moves Amendments on Short Term Rentals to Public Hearing on Monday, February 8

With a Public Hearing set for Monday, February 8, 2021 at 7:00 p.m., the Town Council moves closer to approving the Zoning Ordinance’s amendments regulating Short Term Rental operations in Cape Elizabeth.  Amendments to recommendation #86 of the 2019 Comprehensive Plan will also be put to a public hearing on the same date.  The amendments are preceded by months of thorough review by the Ordinance Committee, Planning Board, and Town Council, as well as numerous emails and comments from the community.

The Planning Board held a Public Hearing on November 17, 2020 at which point nine members spoke: four in favor of the amendments and five against.  At the conclusion of the hearing the Planning Board voted unanimously to forward the recommendations to the Town Council.  At the Town Council Workshop on January 6, 2021 the Town Council reviewed the amendments.

Chairman Jamie Garvin began by thanking councilor Penny Jordan and other members of the Ordinance Committee for their “painstakingly thorough process” over the past year.  Additionally, Garvin reminded attendees that the need for changes to the ordinance stemmed from ongoing tensions between property owners running short-term rentals and property owners in the same neighborhoods who do not.   The proposed amendments aim to strike a balance between property owners wishing to rent their properties to short-term-rental tenants with other residents wishing to preserve the peaceful, quiet enjoyment of residential neighborhoods.

The proposed amendments of most significance are listed below.

  1. All Short Term Rental operators must obtain a permit per each calendar year.  No form of advertising, marketing, or offering to rent is allowed prior to receiving a permit.
  2. The property in which an owner seeks to operate as a short term rental must be the primary residence of the owner, with the exception of property residing on seven acres or more.
  3. A primary residence which is hosted has no limits on the total number of days to operate a short term rental.  The property is considered hosted when the primary owner is in residence, including overnight, during the tenancy of the short term rental.
  4. Under the Short Term Rental unhosted category, a short term rental may be operated by the property owner in their primary residence when the property owner is not in residence during the tenancy of the short term rental tenants.  The property may be used as a short term rental for no more than 42 days per calendar year.
  5. A short term rental operated on seven or more acres may be operated by a property owner whether the property is a primary residence or not and whether the owner is in residence or not.  The property may be used as a short term rental for no more than 182 days per calendar year.
  6. A non-primary residence may be operated as a short term rental property if the owner’s primary residence is located on the same lot or on an abutting lot and the owner is in residence during the tenancy of the short term rental period.  The property may be used as a short term rental for no more than 105 days per calendar year.
  7. A third-party data analytics software, implemented by the Town Council in June of 2020, will improve the enforcement of the ordinance and assist the Code Enforcement Officer in conducting substantive reviews of permit renewals.

With the primary shift of the proposed amendments toward limiting Short Term Rental operations to primary residents, the proposed amendment of Recommendation #86 in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan is considered a companion amendment which better demonstrates how Short Term Rentals should fit into the town’s policies on land use.  The Planning Board’s recommendation reads as follow:

Restrict Short Term Rentals to protect the peaceful quiet enjoyment of neighborhoods and preserve housing stock.  Limited Short Term Rental activity associated with primary residency, on in lower density portions of town, may be allowed within a permit structure that allows tracking of activity and fund for enforcement.

The Town Council did not make any changes to the Planning Board’s recommended amendments during the January 6 workshop.  At the January 11 Town Council Meeting the council voted unanimously to send both the amendments to the  Short Term Rental ordinance and Recommendation #86 to a Public Hearing on Monday, February 8.  From there, the council will consider voting to approve the amendments at their March 8 meeting.  Should the amendments be approved, the revised ordinance would not go in effect until July 1, 2021 — allowing for longer than normal lead-in time.

The Public Hearing will be held via Zoom videoconference.  Members of the public who wish to participate may do so my using the link found on the town’s calendar.

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