June Town Meeting Warrant

Camden voters to consider mandatory un-hosted short-term rental registration rule

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 2:45pm

    CAMDEN — The Town of Camden wants hard data — not industry estimates — of how many property owners are using their homes as short term rentals; therefore, a proposed ordinance is to appear on the June Town  Meeting warrant asking voters to approve the requisite registration of un-hosted short term rental properties.

    “The point is to count them,” said board member Alison McKellar, in the wake of comments from residents skeptical of the need for the proposed language. 

    The proposed ordinance came before the Select Board at its April 6 regularly schedule meeting, along with two other proposed ordinances to get placed on the June Town Meeting warrant (outdoor storage of boats and tradesman shops to be allowed in Coastal Residential and amending the town’s zoning map so that the town-owned wastewater plant lot is not split between two zones).

    McKellar noted that the topic of short-term rental housing, its proliferation in Camden and the broader Midcoast, has been before the town on many occasions.

    “It is something that has been talked about since I got on the Select Board [2017],” she said, adding that in the past, the board was not willing to move forward, “as to whether it’s a problem or [defining] the degree of the problem.”

    Camden resident Alex Cohen had asked at the meeting what the genesis of the ordinance language was.

    “The focus is on taking minor steps toward regulation of short rentals,” said Chair Bob Falciani, as well as trying to understand the inventory. 

    McKellar said at April 6 meeting, “This is not the first step to regulate.”

    She said, “We have been able to agree that we don’t have very good data.”

    The town hopes to glean information, such as where the un-hosted short term rentals are located, and whether they are investment properties, or residents using homes as income boosters.

    The proposed amendment would be attached to the town’s police ordinance, amending it with, “1 G- Un-Hosted Short Term Rental Registration Ordinance.”

    The ordinance purpose, according to its language, follows: “The Town of Camden is committed to maintaining its small-town character, scenic beauty, and natural resources that are the foundation of its economic strength and quality of life. The purpose of this registration ordinance is to safeguard the public health and safety of the residents of the Town of Camden and their visitors and guests while preserving the residential character of neighborhoods, minimizing nuisances, and providing equity with other residential and commercial uses. The registration ordinance is an attempt to protect the public’s health and safety in residential neighborhoods and to ensure compliance with applicable zoning ordinance requirements and to ensure the orderly growth and stability of the town’s neighborhoods.”

    Currently, the town stipulates that no dwelling unit or portion of it be rented for fewer than seven days.

    An Un-hosted Short-Term Rental, according to the town, is a “Short Term Rental where the owner(s) of the property do not reside on property where the Short-Term Rental is located; and it is not the owner(s) primary residence. For the purpose of this provision, primary residence shall mean a dwelling unit occupied by the same resident for a minimum of six consecutive months plus one day.”

    A Hosted Short-Term Rental is a “Short-Term Rental where the owner(s) of the property resides on the property where the Short-Term Rental is located; and the property is the property owner’s primary residence. For the purpose of this provision, primary residence shall mean a dwelling unit occupied by the same resident for a minimum of six consecutive months plus one day.”

    The proposed ordinance amendment calls for all un-hosted short term rentals to be registered on an annual basis. Registration forms, with applicable fees, would be filed with the town clerk.

    Registration forms would include:

    a. Name and mailing address of the property owner
    b. Physical address and Map and Lot number of the property to be rented
    c. Local contact name and phone number for purposes of 24- hour emergency contact.
    d. Identification of the dwelling unit or portion thereof that is to be rented.
    e. Determination of compliance with the Town’s Zoning Ordinance.
    After registration, a card would be issued to the property owner, certifying that the applicant has met the police and zoning ordinance requirements.
    Additionally, the card would be posted at the rental, and on any web platform where the property is listed for rent.
    Violations would be met with a $50 penalty per day.
    “I hear two things,” said Cohen. “I think the language of the way it is presented assumes there is a problem and presumes a public safety problem. If it’s about registration, that’s one thing. But if about more, that’s misleading.”
    Town Manager Audra Caler said the information collected would be helpful, if contacting a property owner were to be necessary.
    “Some are owned by out-of-state rental agencies,” she said.
    Camden resident Deborah Dodge told the Select Board that she appreciated the purpose of the ordinance, “because cohesiveness and residential character of our neighborhoods is important. The fabric of our community depends on having year-round residents.”
    The data, she said, would illustrate the extent of the proliferation of short-term rental trends in Camden.
    She suggested adding a requirement for certificate of insurance, and an inspection for safety, which would help ensure safety of the neighborhood.
    “Let’s get this passed and see if we can add insurance and inspection later,” said Dodge.
    Camden resident and Planning Board member Mark Siegenthaler said that when the ordinance was introduced at a recent meeting of the Planning Board, the town’s planning and development director had said that after dealing with consultant firms, it had been determined that there are 300 short-term rentals in town.
    “This sounds like a big sales pitch to me,” Siegenthaler said. “You are looking for the numbers but you have the numbers.”
    He added, “This has never been discussed with the Planning Board,” and as a police ordinance, “is a round-about way to get it on the books and go from there — a way to circumvent public discussion and really discuss what this town wants.”
    In reference to civil violations with penalties, he said: “so it is not just a simple fact-finding mission. This police ordinance has teeth.”
    Town Manager Caler said that lodging and victualer licenses are categorized with the police department, and in police ordinances.
    And, she added, just because: “we had an IT firm to scrape [numbers] doesn't mean we have an accurate picture. We don’t have any clear picture and we are never going to unless we get people to register.”
    Later in the conversation, she countered that the ordinance, which had been crafted by town Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin, would not fall under the purview of the Planning Board.
    “Something like this would never be appropriate to be in a zoning ordinance,” Caler said.
    It is not a back door way to get around the planning board, she said.
    Select Board member Taylor McKenzie said: “To me this makes sense. I understand the intent is clear. The data can provide us with how short-term rentals may affect neighborhoods.”
    Board member Marc Ratner said that the ultimate decision on the ordinance would lie in the hands of the Camden voter.
    The board then voted 5 to 0 in favor of placing the amendment on the June warrant.

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