We started this process by scheduling the first resident workshop in September 2019. The workshop was scheduled because several Board members received repeated requests by residents to address the STR issue, an issue that has been or is being addressed by at least 19 other towns in Maine.
Resident statements at that workshop supported the need to address STRs and a majority of 4 Board members were in favor of pursuing a STR ordinance. For anyone who studies this issue in depth, as some of us have, it's clear that those towns who do not address STRs proactively are the ones who end up regretting it later.
Through this process, we listened to STR owners and have made many changes to the proposed ordinance to be responsive to those concerns. We did a presentation at a recent Board meeting to demonstrate that the rumors circulating about the proposed ordinance are inaccurate and misleading and that the proposed ordinance is in line with or less burdensome than what has been enacted in other towns in Maine. Regardless of the rhetoric that is circulating — this is a registration ordinance that preserves the ability of those currently renting STRs to continue to do so without restriction.
However, the bottom line is that most of the opponents want no ordinance of any kind.
Unfortunately, the residents who have supported regulation have largely been silent through the process. While some have stepped forward publicly, most have not. They should not be criticized for opting not to enter the public fray, particularly since a small minority of residents have targeted anyone who supports regulation for personal attacks and rhetoric that is unbefitting civil discourse.
The majority of the Select Board has been supportive of getting this measure to a vote in June so that everyone’s voice can be heard privately at the ballot box. But the opponents of STR don’t want the full Town to have the opportunity to vote on the proposed ordinance.
In the end, the Select Board carried out their responsibility — being responsive to residents who supported and opposed regulation. We did our research with respect to what is happening with STRs across the nation and here in Maine. We drafted what the majority of the Select Board viewed as a fair ordinance and made many changes in response to legitimate comments we received from the public. We conducted more workshops on this issue than any other and posted comments on the website for all to freely and easily access.
And yes, the majority of the Select Board does view the proposed ordinance as a fair one — and for those who suggest that Select Board opinions don’t matter or that we should seek permission from residents before pursuing an issue — that’s incorrect — that’s why we are elected to the Select Board — it’s our responsibility to pursue those issues that we believe are in the best interests of the Town — and we have done that.
For those who criticize us for not listening — please hear loud and clear that we are listening. We've been listening all along. As elected officials we want to hear from all residents — not just the loudest voices. That was the purpose for putting this proposed ordinance on the ballot — to give all residents the opportunity to express their view. But at this juncture the rhetoric is too heated for reasonable debate so as responsible Board members I support the view that it is time to cool down the temperature by tabling the issue.
Debra Hall is Rockport Select Board Chair