South Portland’s City Council took some big steps to control the short-term rental business. However, by going beyond regulating short-term rentals in residential zones, they made a mistake that will negatively affect business development and possibly affordable housing.

In all the controversy about the new regulation, no one has expressed any concern about whether short-term rentals should be allowed to operate in commercial zones. In fact, every online comment, and every newspaper article I’ve read (including in this paper), has wrongly said that the ordinance only affects residential areas. Why? Because these are the only areas people are concerned about.

Why, then, did the City Council explicitly limit short-term rentals in commercial zones?

If you don’t believe that short-term rentals are regulated in commercial zones, the ordinance reads: “Section 14-803. Prohibited Activities. (h) Short-term rentals are prohibited in commercial or industrial buildings, unless a specific portion of the building is authorized per the Code Enforcement Office and the Fire Chief or his/her designee for use as a one- or two-family dwelling unit.”

In other words, short-term rentals are banned in commercial buildings, unless they are also residential buildings, and even then, with limitations. In limited business zones, tourist lodging is explicitly allowed, but even here short-term rentals are basically prohibited. See Section 27-702, on permitted uses in limited business zones.

When the city wrote the regulations on limited business zoning, they understood the advantage that mixed-use areas brought to neighborhoods and the city. The council’s short-sighted action throws away that advantage. They should revisit the regulation by excluding commercial zones from the prohibition.

Nicholas Herold

South Portland