Cape Elizabeth short-term rentals

In a residential neighborhood of Cape Elizabeth, just steps from Crescent Beach and Seal Cove, this single-family home on Richmond Terrace is owned by a Connecticut resident and has been operated as a short-term rental, neighbors and town officials say. Kelley Bouchard photo/Press Herald

CAPE ELIZABETH — The town council is expected to vote March 8 on amendments regarding short-term rentals, of which Cape Elizabeth residents provided feedback during a Feb. 8 public hearing.

Work on short-term rental policies within the Zoning Ordinance has been ongoing in Cape Elizabeth for over a year. On a workshop on Jan. 6, Council Chair Jamie Garvin said amending the ordinance is an attempt to bring “balance” between renters and the neighboring residents.

Three of the biggest components that are being proposed include a permit requirement for every short-term rental operator in town, a primary qualification that the operator’s primary residence be the short-term rental, and additional language regarding subjective reviews of operator conduct during the license renewal process, Garvin said.

Another proposed change to the ordinance is limiting the number of days a property can be used as an unhosted short-term rental to 42 days per year, according to the drafted ordinance. A hosted short-term rental would not have a limit.

During the public hearing on Feb. 8, Cindy Doucette, a Richmond Terrace resident, said she believes 42 days is too short for a renter. She has rented her property from 2012 to 2019 without conflict as far as renters were aware and did not rent in 2020.

“It’s only half the summer,” she said. “It’s very limiting.”

Multiple residents on Richmond Terrace said they had issues with unhosted short-term rentals entirely.

Sarah Morrisseau of Richmond Terrace believes that the drafted ordinance may lessen the problems residents neighboring short-term rental tenants face but won’t remove them, she said.

“The draft ordinance is a compromise between business interest and residents’ right to the quiet, peaceful enjoyment of our homes in residential zones,” she said.

Also speaking in opposition of unhosted short-term rentals was Tim Hebda of Richmond Terrace, who asked the council to support the proposed regulations.

“The town council should protect our community and ban all unhosted rentals in residential areas,” he said. “That should be the standard. However, if this council chooses to support unstaffed hotels in our small neighborhoods, then please maintain the protections that are currently a part of the proposed ordinance.”

A resident of Richmond Terrace, Doug Dransfield said that enforcement of policies is an issue.

“You continue to have a problem with enforcement that remains under addressed and I don’t think current ordinance has any real solution for this,” he said.

Julie Armstrong, resident of 32 Lawson Road, said she believes 42 days per year were too many. She also said she thinks that unhosted short-term rentals should be limited to a primary residence.

Another proposed amendment makes a seven-day minimum stay a requirement, which resident Deborah King, who rents out a room in her home, said she disagrees with.

“My concern is limiting our guest when we’re in our situation to just one set of guests a week,” she said. “Because people who come to a home where there’s a family living there only want to come a couple of days. It’s a different kind of vacation.”

Jim Kerney, who lives at 1015 Shore Road, said he believes there are a few “bad eggs” who do not represent every short-term rental operator in Cape Elizabeth.

A number of speakers used the word “compromise” when giving arguments, and Steven Eppinger, 13 Ocean Ave., said he didn’t believe a compromise was necessary in this instance.

“It sounds nice to compromise, but you know the other approach to dealing with a tradeoff where both sides can’t have their way is for you to decide which is more important,” he said. “In this regard I think the choice is quite clear. Is the character of our residential neighborhood more important than the commercial interests of a few?”

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