SOUTH PORTLAND — Michael Frabotta said the City Council has pushed through changes to zoning ordinances that affect land use rights, prompting him to seek a halt on its enactment.

“It’s attacking homeowners’ rights,” Frabotta said March 5 of a specific amendment to Chapter 27 of the city’s land use ordinance, which says unless a use is specifically listed as allowed, it is prohibited. 

Frabotta took out a referendum petition Feb. 27 that aims to collect the mandated 1,000 signatures by March 12 to force the City Council to repeal passage of ordinances regulating short-term rentals in the city, as well as changes to Chapter 27 land use ordinance. If the council votes not to repeal the ordiance, then the decision will go to a referendum vote.

Frabotta said March 7 he could not provide the exact number of signatures he has gathered, as there are several other groups he is working with who are also collecting signatures. But he said he has been going door to door to residences in the city to speak with people about the issue, and said there is a lot of support and momentum behind the petition. 

There are 19,000 registered voters in the city of 25,ooo people, said City Clerk Emily Scully. 

The ordinance is set to be fully enforceable June 1. If 1,000 signatures are collected and certified with the city, the petition will stop the ordinance from going into effect, said Scully. The number of signatures collected equals 5 percent of registered voters who visited the polls in the last municipal election, in November 2017, said Scully. 

Frabotta, a Willard Beach neighborhood resident, does not operate a short-term rental. He said although the regulation of such rentals has been the hot-button topic in recent months, his overriding concern is the effect on land use rights the city will have over property. He said the ordinance change with chapter 27 means the city will have more control over what people can do with the property they paid for, and own. 

The city’s planning director, Tex Haeuser, said the amendment does not really change how the ordinance has previously been interpreted, describing it as more of a housekeeping item, as suggested by the city’s attorney, Sally Daggett. He said landowners should not be concerned by the vote, saying it is standard language for zoning ordinances which, as established by the Supreme Court, allows the public right to divide some uses as allowed or not allowed in certain sections of a city or town. 

The amendments to Chapter 27 passed the council by a vote of 5-2. 

The short-term rental ordinance, approved 6-1, bans non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, in all areas of the city would still be possible, and non-homeowner-occupied rentals would be allowed only in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods.

Short-term rentals are defined as any stay of 30 days or less, and have been popularized and promoted by online vacation home rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

When asked for a comment on the petition, Mayor Linda Cohen said Monday it is a tool available to the public if they are not happy with something the council has enacted, and said the governing board will wait to see how many signatures are gathered. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at [email protected]