The Cape Elizabeth Town Council voted Monday to postpone action on a proposed zoning amendment that would impose strict limits on short-term rentals.

Councilors listened to an hour of public comment before voting to delay a final decision until the council’s meeting March 8. The new rules, which would include a permit requirement, are considered some of the state’s strictest proposed limits on short-term rentals.

The proposal would require that all short-term rental operators obtain a permit each calendar year, and advertising, marketing or renting a property would be prohibited until the permit is obtained.

And property operated for short-term rentals would have to be the owner’s primary residence unless located on at least 7 acres.  An owner would be allowed to rent to only one party during any seven-day period.

There would be no limit on the number of days a property could be rented if the property is hosted – the owner is on the premises during the rental period. But if unhosted, the property could be used as a short-term rental for no more than 42 days per calendar year. Short-term rental properties on 7 acres or more could be rented for no more than 182 days in a calendar year.

A non-primary residence could be operated as a short-term rental if the owner’s primary residence is on the same lot or on an abutting lot, but could be rented for no more than 105 calendar days per year.

If the Town Council approves the ordinance changes on March 8, they would not take effect until July 1.

The Planning Board held a public hearing in November on the plan to strengthen rules and tighten loopholes that have allowed short-term rentals to spread largely unchecked in recent years. The Planning Board voted unanimously in November to forward the proposal to the council.

Cape Elizabeth is one of several communities in Maine and across the nation that are wrestling with an explosion of short-term rentals advertised on websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway and Vrbo.

Portland has been trying to rein them in for several years, including with a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot that would have banned non-owner-occupied and unhosted short-term rentals. It failed by 222 votes. The South Portland City Council passed short-term rental regulations in 2018 that banned unhosted stays in residential zones and were subsequently upheld in a citywide referendum.

Placing restrictions on short-term rentals has become necessary to cool tensions between property owners operating them and their neighbors, Cape Elizabeth Town Council Chairman Jamie Garvin said Monday on the town’s website.

“The proposed amendments aim to strike a balance between property owners wishing to rent their properties to short-term rental tenants with other residents wishing to preserve the peaceful, quiet enjoyment of residential neighborhoods,” Garvin said.

Most of the 18 town residents who spoke at Monday’s public hearing asked councilors to ban unhosted short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. Residents claim such rentals often attract unruly and disrespectful guests who engage in loud parties, let unleashed dogs run free and exceed posted speed limits in their neighborhoods.

Sarah Morrisseau, who lives on Richmond Terrace, said unhosted short-term rentals create unsafe conditions for her children.

“Unhosted short-term rentals are like letting a hotel operate in a residential neighborhood,” Morrisseau said.

“My home serves as the scenic backdrop for these hotels,” said Tim Hebda, Morrisseau’s neighbor.

Julie Armstrong, who lives on Lawson Road, asked the council to require that hosts not be allowed to have more than one guest party during any seven-day period.

Armstrong said the council must choose between preserving the character of Cape Elizabeth’s neighborhoods or protecting the interests of a small group of property owners who operate short-term rentals.

Scott Rockwell, who said he has operated a “successful” short-term rental property for eight years, said the town has not been listening to his concerns. Rockwell said he has hosted more than 300 guests during that period who stay for an average of two or three days. Rockwell said he wants the seven-day rule stricken from the proposed ordinance so that he can book more than one guest a week.

“The town is trying to micromanage our lifestyle and our income opportunities that our home provides,” Rockwell said.

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