2015-07-17 / Community

Kennebunkport makes ready for ‘roomers’

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Voters in Kennebunkport already know they’ll be seeing a rewrite of the recently adopted animal control ordinance on their November ballots, clarifying language adopted in June to update beach access rules written in 1976. Now comes word of another do-over, albeit to an ordinances that’s been on the books even longer — since 1972.

Current rules allow residents in eight of the town’s 11 zoning district to rent out up to two rooms in a single-family home, pending approval as a special exception from the zoning board of appeals. However, only homes already existing at the time the rule was adopted are eligible for the exception.

At the July 9 meeting of the board of selectmen, Kennebunkport Planning Director Werner Gilliam submitted an updated version of the ordinance. The new version would open the ability to rent rooms to homeowners anywhere in town, including the Village Residential, Village Residential East, and Cape Arundel zones, where the practice is now banned.

The new ordinances also would excise the post-1972 restriction, allowing rentals in all single-family homes. Added would be new language clarifying that the homeowner must be in residence.

“In this scenario, you have a much better chance of having a resident on site to mitigate any potential issues that may arise with noise or neighbors,” Gilliam said.

“Based on some feedback we received from a number of different folks, some who are currently doing the activity, and some who would like to do the activity, we decided it was time to update the ordinance to better reflect current rental trends,” Gilliam said. “Essentially, this would be a license issued for the property owner, so, not something that continually runs with the property.”

“Performance standards would remain the same, although Gilliam said that is “pretty much” limited to an inspection to ensure fire and carbon dioxide alarms are in place, and that proper exit lanes are in place from the rented rooms.

But that seems to stick in the craw of board Chairman Sheila Matthews-Bull, who, in her day job, runs the Rhumb Line Resort.

“The conflict I see is with the small business that rent out rooms,” she said, claiming no support among the many bed & breakfast operations in town for the concept, already approved by the town’s Growth Planning Committee.

“They have maybe four rooms, or five rooms. They’re not very big. I think this is interfering with those businesses. It’s not like we’re trying to step on anyone’s toes, but I know what we pay in licenses, and fees, and taxes, and for someone to be able to do that free and clear is kind of not fair.”

Already the local hospitality industry is under assault from the so-called sharing economy, Matthews-Bull said, claiming “more than 200” Kennebunkport homes are listed for rent on websites like airbnb and HomeAway. Would rooming homes be able to escape the stringent requirements hotels, motels and B&Bs are held to, she asked.

“The short answer is no, they would not have to go through as extensive a process as what a B&B would have to go through because those buildings are classified as commercial structures,” Gilliam said.

Selectmen Patrick Briggs said the new ordinances effectively “carves out a third niche,” adding people who rent rooms to those who rent entire houses alongside the traditional B&BS model.

“But I don’t know how you manage this equitably,” he said. “Is it a hotplate option? Is it a kitchen (use) option? Where do the bathrooms come into play?”

“It’s along the lines of, these are paying guests in people’s homes,” Gilliam said. “The demographic I’ve discussed this with has been predominately single, elderly woman who have either lost their husbands, or are divorced, and see this as additional income to be able to stay in their homes. We’ve also heard from elderly couples who see this as chance to keep them in their homes for a longer period of time.”

David James, spokesman for the Kennebunkport Residents Association, backed that assessment.

“I think this is an excellent idea,” he said. “I’ve been approached recently by by two different people who think the town needs to do more to help elderly people to remain in their houses. I’m sure the details need to be worked out, but it sounds like something (moving) in the right direction to me.”

Still, Matthews-Bull seemed dubious.

“I’m not thinking they’re all going to be elderly people needing extra money,” she said. “I think you’re opening it up to creating kind of another business in town and then it’s going to be a free-forall for everybody.”

“Probably we need more response from the public,” Briggs said, suggesting public hearings down the road will help selectmen decide what edits, if any, may need to be made to Gilliam’s proposal. But at least one selectman seemed to find the current draft sufficient for Kennebunkport’s needs.

“I think we need to leave it the heck alone,” Selectman Stuart Barwise said.

“Personally, I would be cautious about allowing a narrow group of individuals for economic advantage to dictate policy,” he said. “This could actually be a good thing.”

As someone who has run bed and breakfast operations in the area, Barwise said increasing living options for hospitality workers could be a boon to the industry in town.

“One the hardest things to do here is to accommodate summer labor,” Barwise said. “I was constantly looking for places to house summer team members. We used these types of scenarios where we could find them and, quite frankly, there’s not enough of them out there.”

Matthews-Bull said she did not object to folks renting rooms longterm, whether to students or summer help. What she objected to, she said, was direct competition for short-term accommodations.

“I think what you’re going to find is that they’ll rent out on a weekend or nightly basis,” she said.

“Obviously, if you do it on a nightly basis, you make more money,” Selectman Allen Daggett agreed.

Gilliam said the current ordinance amendment, as drafted, “does not speak to time frames,” meaning people could rent out rooms for a single night.

Gilliam also says the town has no way to verify that anyone who does take advantage of the ordinance claims any income from room rentals on their taxes.

“I can’t speak to that,” he said, “but then I can’t say how many businesses report all of their income either.”

The ordinances will come back to the board for further review on its way to the November ballot. Meanwhile, one audience member at the June 9 meeting, Barbara Barwise, mother to Selectman Barwise, cautioned the board against making any tweaks that limit what is currently allowed, including overnight room rental.

“Some of those homes have been rented for probably hundreds of years,” she said. “So, before you go thinking you’re going to put restrictions on a whole area of town, I’d be very careful.

Return to top