Camden Select Board to hold hearing on proposed short-term rental rules

Mon, 04/01/2024 - 9:30pm

    CAMDEN — The process to craft short-term rental regulations for Camden has been long, focused, and filled with debate; but now, the town has proposals before it to govern STRs — those rooms, apartments and houses throughout the town numbering anywhere from 34 to 400 and which range from rented spaces above garages to luxurious accommodations overlooking the harbor.

    An STR as defined in the proposed regulations is a dwelling unit available for rent for no more than 28 consecutive days or a calendar month. STRs encompass vacation rentals, boardinghouses, bed and breakfasts, farm stays, transient homes, inns, and more. 

    The Planning Board and municipal staff have spent the last year researching and refining the short-term rental regulations now before the town. Tuesday evening, April 2, the Select Board will review and hold three public hearings on elements of the short-term rental ordinance package. 

    At the end of the Tuesday evening hearing, the Select Board may vote whether to move that package before Camden voters at annual town meeting, June 11, at the polls. If so, the proposed regulations will appear as three separate articles on the town meeting warrant.

    The hearings on the articles will take place during a regularly scheduled Select Board meeting in the French Conference Room, at the Town office, beginning at 6:30 p.m..

    That meeting follows a joint meeting of the Select Board and Budget Committee at 5:30 p.m. to consider the proposed 2024-2025 $12.9 million municipal budget.

    Citizens and business owners, including real estate agents and the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, have weighed in on the proposed short-term rental amendments, many opposing the regulations, some supporting them.

    Approximately 50 letters sent on the matter to the Planning Board, Camden planning office and the Select Board since December have been collected and posted here.

    It is not a new issue to come before Camden. Two years ago, the town attempted to require registration of STRs, but only by those property owners not living on the same property as the rental unit. That produced 34 registrations, and represented but a percentage of Camden’s STRs. The town’s planning office said the number of STRs in town could range from 200 to 400, figures produced by third-party entities.

    The proposed new regulations would, if approved, result in STRs meeting standards developed, “to protect the community’s natural resources, public safety, the safety of the transient guests and the character of our neighborhoods,” wrote Camden Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin and Planning Board Chair Ethan Shaw, in a Feb. 9 memo to the Camden Select Board.

    If approved, the town would create categories of STRs: commercial, residential and seasonal. The town would also require compliance with wastewater rules, “which require that dwellings that are used as STRs have an increased design capacity beyond the standard bedroom calculation that site evaluators use to design septic systems, wrote Martin and Shaw.

    While some have characterized the new regulations as a product of government overreach, others call them comprehensive and necessary. The debate has been heated, as citizens question to what extent STRs are diminishing the available stock of long-term rentals.

    The Planning Board is recommending a 150 unit limit on commercial STRs. The board is not recommending a cap on residential and seasonal STRs.

    “Many communities that have adopted STR regulations haven capped the number of STRs in a community to a certain percent of the housing stock,” wrote Martin and Shaw. “In Maine, caps range from 1 percent (Bangor) to 9 percent (Bar Harbor).”

    The Town of Camden has approximately 3,600 dwelling units. If Camden has 400 STRs in town that translates to just over 11 percent of the town’s dwelling units being STRs, they wrote. If there are 210 STRs, that would translate to 6 percent of the town’s dwelling units being STRs.

    The goals of the Planning Board included:

    Increase housing stock with more long-term rental or sales of residential properties.

    Ensure safety of STR occupants and the public.

    Protect the sense of community, and Camden’s desirability as a vacation destination and attractive place to live and work.

    Protect the traditional practice of town residents offering their primary residences a seasonal rentals.

    Address the unequal playing field between existing commercial lodging industry and unregulated short-term rentals.