2018-03-30 / Community

Kennebunkport creates two housing groups

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — In an effort to get ahead the curve on housing needs in town, Kennebunkport selectmen have created two new groups tasked with tackling the issue from different angles.

At their March 22 meeting, selectmen appointed six people to a new affordable housing committee, each for a period of two years, while also creating an ad hoc committee to address so-called short-term rentals.

“Like many things it’s not usually one home run that wins the game. It takes many people working together,” Town Manager Laurie Smith said, addressing the need for the two groups.

“I believe these are two very valuable committees for this town,” said Dan Saunders, chairman of Kennebunkport’s growth planning committee. “These are topics that we’ve dealt with on the GPC, but they’re a little bit bigger than what we can just focus on, because of our other duties with the comp(rehensive) plan, which has been in service for about six years and is due for a re-do. So, we need to start focusing (on that).”

In January, selectmen accepted a 69-page Housing Needs Analysis and Assessment report prepared by Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, New York. Commissioned at a cost of $22,040, that report laid out the problems with housing in Kennebunkport, suggested some goals the town might adopt to rein in housing costs, and gave a list of tools it said the town might use going forward.

According to Camoin Project Manager Tom Dworetsky, recent trends predict that 230 new housing units will be built in Kennebunkport over the coming decade. Whatever strategies are developed by the new committee, he said, the overall goal should be to assure that at least 10 percent of that new housing stock is targeted for affordable housing projects — that is, homes that are affordable to those earning 80 to 120 percent of the area median income. According to 2016 data gathered by Camoine, that threshold would mean homes selling for between $254,000 and $382,000.

But the challenge to getting there, said Camoin Principal Jim Damicis, is that since 2000 the median home price in Kennebunkport has gone up 102 percent, to $474,000 — almost twice the $251,000 median across all of York County.

Household incomes have risen over that same time period just 32 percent. That median priced home, Damicis said in his January report to selectmen, is now beyond the reach of any household bringing in less than $95,000 per year. And yet, Kennebunkport’s median household income is $72,000, while 33 percent of households in town make less than $50,000 and 4 percent are currently listed as living below the federal poverty line.

To help combat the problem, Smith has included in the 2018-2018 town budget given final approval by selectmen March 22 $15,000 to hire a consultant to study Kennebunkport’s current land use ordinances, “to look at how that might be impacting the cost of housing.”

The hope, Smith said, is to identify tweaks that can be made to help lower home building costs, “without just increasing development” by reducing regulation to such an extent that it unleashes a free-for-all era of cowboy construction.

Smith also asked for $8,000 to have the planning department review town-owned property, “to better understand if any of those might be potentials” to use for affordable housing projects.

One of the strategies suggested by Camoine would have the town donate land to a developer or other housing entity “at little or no cost, in exchange for the creation of a specified development plan to assure affordability” of a set number of housing units.

In addition to how best to make use of anything turned up in the upcoming consultant and planning department studies, other possibilities suggested by Camoine that the new housing committee might consider include the founding with town help of a local housing alliance or housing trust; creating some sort of partnership between the town and existing developers of affordable housing projects, such an Habitat for Humanity; and/or the creation of special tax increment financing (TIF) districts to help entice development of low-cost housing.

In addition to its own chairman, Patrick Briggs, and Town Planner Werner Gilliam, selectmen appointed four residents to the new housing committee, each for a period of two years. Those members are:

 James Fitzgerald Jr. of School Street — A real estate broker with Coldwell Banker in Kennebunk, Fitzgerald is a past president of the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport- Arundel Chamber of Commerce who currently sits on Kennebunkport’s growth planning committee and its zoning board of appeals. He also is a vice president of the York County Community College Board of Directors.

 Patrick Clancy of Boatswain Lane, whom Smith described to selectmen as “a newer resident who has worked on affordable housing projects in another state.” According to his committee application, Clancy “built and led for more than 40 years The Community Builders,” a Boston-based organization now active in 14 states that has “created new or rehabilitated housing for more than 25,000 households.” Clancy continues to serve on the board of directors for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.

 William “Bill” Dugan of Whittemore Lane — A retired engineer who has logged a decade on the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT) Board of Directors, where he currently serves as chairman of its investment committee, Dugan also is a 20-year member of the Goose Rocks Beach Fire Company.

 David Kling of Goose Fair — A retired banker who also serves as a KCT director, Kling is past planning board member and the current president of the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library Board of Trustees.

“This represents the entire spectrum of the town, with people of long experience. So, they bring everything to bear,” Briggs said. “I’m very optimistic that we are going to be able to put together a plan.”

The short-term rental committee, meanwhile, will be tasked with addressing the rise of home and room rentals fueled by websites like HomeStay, Airbnb, and others at the forefront of the so-called sharing economy.

According to Smith, there has been a growing level of discontent levied by the owners of hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments in town, which have complained that by renting out rooms for periods of less than 30 days — and often for as little as a weekend — homeowners are encroaching on their businesses without having to suffer any of the same costs of licensing and inspection, or the limitations of local and state government regulation.

Meanwhile, many of these short-term rental sites have in recent years developed a reputation as “party pads” rented out to dozens of people at a time.

“People feel this is a commercial venture in their residential neighborhoods and it’s impacting their quality of life,” Smith said.

Smith also observed that buyers are increasingly latching on to homes in Kennebunkport with no intention of living in them personally, even as vacation homes. These properties are used solely as an investment, Smith said, to be advertised online for short-term rentals.

Within the past couple of years, Cape Elizabeth and Portland have both adopted licensing restrictions aimed at controlling the number of homes used as short-term rentals properties.

South Portland recently went one step further by requiring that within residential districts, short-term landlords must live in the home and be present in the home for the entire duration of any rental, while also limiting rentals of less than 30 days to no more than two adults and one infant at any one time for any living unit, regardless of the number of bedrooms.

Those new rules are currently the subject of a citizen-initiated repeal referendum.

What course of action Kennebunkport might take will be up to the new ad hoc committee, Smith said.

“I think Kennebunkport just needs to look at what makes sense for Kennebunkport,” she said.

According to the terms set by selectmen, the short-term rental committee will be constituted for a nine-month period, charged with reporting back to selectmen with a list of recommended regulations by January 2019. Selectmen will chose members from across a broad spectrum of stakeholders, they said, to include residents, those who already engage in short-term rentals, and owners of local inns.

Selectmen are expected to appoint committee members at their next meeting, on April 12, and limit the group to “probably less than nine, just to keep it manageable,” Smith said.

Anyone interested in being on the committee can fill out an application at town hall, or download one from the board of selectmen page on the town website, at www.kennebunkportme.gov/board-selectmen.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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