FREEPORT — Bill Hamlen said he just wants it to be fair.

Hamlen, the owner of the Orchard House and Café, was one of more than a dozen people who spoke during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting about the possibility of a short-term rental ordinance in Freeport.

“I have town fees, state fees, fire code fees, and insurance fees,” Hamlen said. “Because I’m not on town water, I have a (different) fire suppression system to ensure that my customers are safe at night in their beds.”

There is nothing on the books in Freeport that regulates short-term rental properties, so the types of fees that Hamlen and other owners of inns and bed and breakfasts pay don’t apply to someone who rents their house on AirBNB or other rental sites.

“That is my responsibility running an inn, and you’re taking someone’s life in your hands every time you take a rental,” he said. “I think a little bit of fairness needs to be discussed if we’re talking about making money and surviving, because I, too, have bills to pay.”

Keith McBride, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corporation, told the Town Council on Tuesday that the organization hasn’t taken an official position on a proposed short-term rental ordinance. Jason Pafundi/For the Forecaster

The Town Council is in the beginning stages of discussing a short-term rental ordinance. Chairwoman Sarah Tracy said  public comment taken at the Oct. 15 meeting will act as an information session for the Ordinance Rewrite Committee, which will take a deeper look at the proposed ordinance – found in its entirety on the town’s website – before speaking with other municipalities that regulate short-term rentals. The committee has not set a date to meet on the matter.

“There are some properties (in Freeport) that aren’t playing well in the sandbox,” Tracy said. “This is an ongoing matter.”

The ordinance would require that, effective April 1, 2020, short-term rental owners would have to register their properties with the town and include an application, a non-refundable $100 fee, and assurance that the rental property complies with health and safety standards. Contact information for a representative with 24/7 availability would also be required.

In addition, a town-issued registration identification number must displayed in all forms of advertising. Freeport residents could register no more than three units or accessory dwellings, while a non-Freeport resident could register no more than one unit.

For a hosted stay, rentals would be kept to fewer than 30 consecutive days. For a non-hosted stay, the rent would be limited to at least seven, but fewer than 30, consecutive days. A maximum of two people would be allowed per bedroom, with no more than two children under the age of 12. All vehicles would have to be parked onsite in designated areas.

Violations would mean a fine of $1,000 a day for operating without a registration card for the first offense and $1,500 per day for any subsequent offense, with the same fine schedule for violating occupancy limits. Providing false information in the registration packet would result in a $2,000 fine.

The Freeport Economic Development Corporation has not taken an official position on the proposed ordinance, Executive Director Keith McBride said. He told the council that everyone in Freeport, from elected officials, town staff, business and property owners and residents should be on the same page.

 “We all should have the exact same goal here to drive economic development in Freeport, especially in the downtown,” McBride said.

Several residents wrote the council to support the proposed ordinance, complaining about too many vehicles in driveways, loud, boisterous drinking around outdoor fires, overflowing garbage and properties being used as event venues and weekend party houses. The proposed ordinance also has language to address the rules about parking, fire pits and trash.

Recently, the council added language to make the town’s noise ordinance stronger, and noise complaints are among the chief concerns that many in Freeport have about short-term renters and their property owners.

Local resident Peter Bouman told the council he supports a person’s right to rent out their house if they choose, but only until it adversely affects him and his life.

“I have had enough of noise, trespassing and parking headaches forced upon me by an inconsiderate neighbor,” Bouman said. “This ordinance should go a long way towards enforcing reciprocal property rights: go ahead and make your money with short-term rentals, but don’t disrupt your neighbors.”

Gerry Kennedy, who has rented out a property for years, said Freeport is lucky to be a desirable location for renters, but he doesn’t think short-term rentals need that much regulation.  He said the police department can handle the noise complaints.

Phil Clifford has been hosting families in Maine for 15 years and said the proposed ordinance is outrageous and a classic case of micromanaging. He said it would be crippling to his ability to pay his bills during the winter, and he said there’s only so much a property owner can do.

“We can’t control our renters 100% of the time they are in our house,” Clifford said. “We tell them rules and guidelines, but we’re not with them 100% of the time.”

In other business:

– Town Manager Peter Joseph said that eight trees in Soule Park in South Freeport will be removed on Oct. 21. A limited number of wood from the removed trees will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning on Oct. 23 at the Freeport Recycling Center.

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