Our property rights are on the line in Rockport; vote no on Article 4

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 12:15pm

With Article 4 now on Rockport’s June 8 ballot to “survey” voters about short term rentals (STR), I have decided to share my personal experience as a homeowner who has occasionally rented our property in the village.

As written, Article 4 is intended to drum up support for an eight-page Short-Term Rental Ordinance that has in fact already been drafted. Like the two Select Board members who voted against placing Article 4 on the ballot, I also feel it is misguided at this time to move toward the adoption of such an ordinance that would so severely restrict Rockport homeowners’ property rights.

The justification for this ordinance is based largely on anonymous complaints and even some public misrepresentations about fellow neighbors, including unfortunately, my own family.

Proponents for the STR ordinance have not shared adequate hard data supporting their claims, nor has adequate community discussion been allowed. One-sided livestream meetings and public hearings that had to be conducted on Zoom due to the pandemic are not a substitute for in-person forums, especially when the issue carries such lasting impact.

Why create excessive regulation that affects everyone in Rockport now when the need for it is still unclear? 

I grew up in Rockport and inherited my childhood home on Russell Avenue from my mother.

For more than 75 years my family has owned this piece of ground. When my mother passed away in 2008, I was working in Portland, and now in Connecticut, but Rockport has always been my home and my family spends as much of the year here as our jobs allow.

When my mother passed, the only way I could maintain the house and pay the property tax bill was to rent. For several years we had a year-round renter that precluded our own use of the house, so in 2015 we began short-term rentals through On the Water in Maine.

To my knowledge, our rentals caused a problem for our neighbors only once, when a guest mistakenly blocked our shared driveway, and our property manager dealt with it swiftly.

I was therefore dismayed when I learned that this single incident, which occurred a number of years ago, has been cited repeatedly, in letters to the editor and public meetings, as evidence that a STR ordinance is necessary for Rockport.

Being able to rent our house made it possible for me to keep our property in the family for another generation. 

My own situation runs counter to the threat that the proponents of the STR ordinance would like you to believe – that rental properties are owned by “investors” from away who are not embedded in and therefore do not care about our community.

I would argue that this is just not the case for the vast majority of Rockport’s current rental properties, and it should be incumbent on the ordinance drafters to offer data that supports their claim. Many STR owners are year-round residents. Seasonal families, who also rent their homes for short periods to help pay their tax bills, often have deep roots in the area, and support local institutions and services that benefit everyone.

This tradition of periodic rentals is deeply rooted in Rockport’s history as a summer colony and was a large part of my mother’s real estate business beginning back in the 1960s. 

My story also illustrates that property ownership is fluid – while I needed income at one point to keep my mother’s house in the family, during the past year and a half we have not rented at all and the house has been a welcome refuge from the pandemic as we worked remotely. Eligibility restrictions in the STR ordinance draft, like the 2-year limitation on grandfathered status or the 1,000-foot rule, very well might limit my rental rights in the future. I am even more concerned that they will limit the property rights of other long-time residents—friends and neighbors—who today are not renting, but for whom the extra income may become essential down the road.

Maintaining flexible property rights for all Rockport residents is what is really at stake with Article 4, which is why many of us oppose it. It seems to be offering a solution where there is no identified problem. Let’s protect the needs of current and future residents and not take this STR ordinance consideration any further.

After all, the rental of private homes in Rockport has been happening for decades and forcing a decision on this issue at this time, after all the hardship and uncertainty we have all endured in this past year, does not sit well with me and if my mother were alive and still on the Select Board, I believe she too would move more cautiously for the residents of Rockport.

Lani Jones lives in Rockport