Rockport residents share pros, cons of short-term rentals with Select Board

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 9:15pm

ROCKPORT — Resident shared their opinions regarding short-term rental properties in town with the Rockport Select Board and Town Manager Bill Post at a workshop on the subject Sept. 23. The Select Board convened the forum following a suggestion by the Ordinance Review Committee that Rockport residents share their experiences about short-term rentals in the community, in the event that the town considers rules regulating the short-term rental of rooms, apartments or whole homes in the future.

Positive aspects of short-term rentals shared by those who spoke included the opportunity to generate income to offset Maine’s high property taxes and provide guests with an “authentic” experience, which, in turn, encourages them to shop at nearby businesses and support the local economy.

Those who spoke out against short-term rental properties said short-term rentals changed their neighborhood atmosphere. And, they said, the availability of short-term rental properties reduces the number of affordable, long-term housing options in the area.

Select Board member Debra Hall opened the meeting, stating that the focus of the discussion would be about scenarios in which homeowners were not present or on site when renters were at their properties.

She said that possible regulations or licensing options concerning short-term rentals could dictate the frequency by which a property could be rented.

Selectman Jeff Hamilton said his intention was to listen to citizen comments, adding, there are “hundreds of examples of ordinances developed around the country on the subject,” and that the discussion should refer to rentals options in lieu of hotels and not be company-specific (e.g., Airbnb)

“Airbnb and short-term rentals are excellent for people who are visiting. I think they get a more authentic experience getting to stay in someone’s home, maybe feeling more of the community. [Renters] are giving money to families rather than a larger hotel, and for the families who are offering these services, it’s almost like a small, family-run business,” said resident Kelsey Anderson.

She continued, however, to say that she experienced great difficulty finding long-term housing options when she decided to move to Maine permanently from New Hampshire.

Rockport resident John Viehman told the board that properties on either side of his home had been purchased and renovated with the express purpose of being turned into short-term rentals.

He said that since they began operating as such, the constant comings-and-goings of renters has significantly affected his sense of community and relaxation and created a fragmented atmosphere, compounded by not knowing or having significant interactions with his next door neighbors.

He added that the prevalence of short-term rentals in town seems to suggest that Rockport is a place to visit, not to live year-round.

“It changes how it feels when we’re just sitting outside on our deck, it changes how you feel when you wake up in the morning and there’s a different car across the street,” said Viehman.

Resident Melissa MacCoole said that two of the largest groups of visitors to Rockport are students visiting either the Maine Media Workshops or the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. Those attending these schools are typically searching for a monthly rather than yearly rental, based on the duration of the course. She added that the proximity to the Pen Bay Medical Center also brings several travelling nurses to the area, who rely on short-term property rentals.

Rockport citizen Elizabeth Berry told the board that she has lived in her home on Amsbury Hill for most of her life, a home that has been in her family for generations. Berry operates a rental within her home, and is always in residence when her tenants stay.

She said that her decision to offer a short-term rental was catalyzed by her need to supplement her income in order to pay the town’s high property taxes and ensure that her home can remain in her family for years to come. She said that in this first year of renting, the only time her neighbor was aware that she offered an Airbnb was when a renter came to the neighbor’s driveway by accident.

Berry said that the people who stay with her, some of whom come to Rockport from abroad, offer her pleasant conversations and vignettes from parts of the world she would never ordinarily come into contact with. She said that both of her parents previously rented rooms in the home, since the 1930s when a music colony in Rockport drew visitors to the area.

“The people who have been there have been wonderful – they’ve become my social life. The people who were just there were from Lithuania – I would never have had that opportunity to meet people from Lithuania. I thoroughly enjoy these people. I need the money, I want to stay in my family home, and for me it’s worked,” said Berry.