The owners of a historic bed-and-breakfast say a zoning change to allow small inns like theirs to rent up to six rooms is needed to give the businesses a chance to survive in Kennebunk.

John and Kathy Daamen, owners of the Waldo Emerson Inn on Summer Street, are pushing for a change to the town’s zoning ordinance that increases the rental limit from four to six rooms. The four-room limit is likely among the most restrictive in the state and would make it difficult for any inn operator to generate enough revenue to stay in business, the head of the Maine Innkeepers Association said.

The Daamens approached town officials about changing the limit because increased competition from private rentals such as Airbnb makes it difficult for four-bedroom inns to stay afloat. Without the change and a chance to generate additional income, the Daamens say they’ll have no choice but to consider selling the property.

“Four rooms is not sustainable,” Kathy Daamen said. “We need (this change) to survive. We want to stay in business here.”

Kennebunk residents will vote Tuesday on the zoning ordinance change, which is Question 8 on the ballot.

The zoning change would apply to the suburban residential zone, which includes the Summer Street area notable for its historic homes, such as the iconic Wedding Cake House. In other areas of town, the number of rental rooms allowed ranges from zero to eight.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in favor of the proposed change.

“Most communities either have (no room limit) or they’re in the eight- to 10-rooms range,” said Greg Dugal, CEO of the Maine Innkeepers Association. “(Kennebunk’s) is the most restrictive ordinance I know of. Even six would be restrictive. With the advent of Airbnb and other rentals, these inns need all the advantages they can get to survive.”

CHANGE WOULD ‘PROMOTE OUTSIDE REVENUE’

Dugal noted that half of the 1,400 businesses in Maine with lodging licenses have 12 or fewer rooms.

John Daamen, who serves on the town’s economic development committee, said he and his wife bought the inn 13 years ago as a retirement project and have been operating the B&B largely by themselves since. He had several strokes in the past couple years, and they now need to hire staff to help, but the revenue stream from renting only four rooms doesn’t allow that, he said.

Rooms at the Waldo Emerson Inn start at $135 a night during the offseason and rise to a high of about $195 a night during summer and around holidays.

Daamen said he could have requested a contract zone strictly for his property, but would like to see the change throughout the district to support the local economy. No new inns or B&Bs have opened in town in the past 12 years and two have closed, he said.

“I believe this change would promote outside revenue in our town and support local businesses and preserve our beautiful historic homes and values,” Daamen said in a letter to the Board of Selectmen.

Blake Baldwin, chairman of the economic development committee, said in a letter to the Kennebunk Planning Board that the Daamens approached town officials to request the change. The Waldo Emerson Inn – which was built in 1753 and is the oldest home in Kennebunk – has adequate size to add two more units because the building has eight bedrooms, he said. The B&B has been open since 1988.

‘EFFECTIVE USE OF UNUSUAL PROPERTIES’

The economic development committee voted March 3 to support the proposed change. Blake said the committee would support eventually allowing eight units, provided basic utility, parking and screening requirements are met.

“In fact, the EDC would hope that this discussion would be taken up for other districts in the community, particularly where very large homes could accommodate such facilities with minimal impact,” Baldwin wrote. “We believe this is an effective use of unusual properties and would avoid the need to depend on larger, chain-like hotel operations. These facilities also operate as good local businesses, returning revenue to the community.”

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said there are four or five B&Bs in town, but no others in the same zone as the Waldo Emerson Inn. He said the change would allow the inn to compete with Airbnb rentals and find long-term stability.

“The Board of Selectmen support this because it makes sense in that area of town,” he said.

Kathy Daamen said she hasn’t heard of opposition to the proposed change. She doesn’t believe it would result in a large number of inns popping up, and would give people options to run small businesses in historic homes while filling the need for rentals in a town known for tourism.

“Instead of having bigger hotels, we can have nice romantic bed-and-breakfasts sprinkled around town,” John Daamen said.