The front porch at an Airbnb rental at 36 Burleigh St. in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — The Waterville Planning Board discussed revisions Monday to the zoning ordinance that would allow the city to regulate short-term residential rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway.

Waterville currently does not have regulations for short-term rentals, but has received a handful of complaints from residents who live near them.

The Planning Board does not have authority to institute regulations, but may recommend them to the City Council, which would make a decision.

Country Way resident Tom Nale urged the board Monday to regulate short-term rentals. He said he and his three brothers developed his neighborhood many years ago in a Residential-A zone, and there is a large house nearby owned by a businesses in Dallas that rents it out as an Airbnb.

Nale said those who rent the house share a pool, lounge, barbecue and other amenities, and there are multiple vehicles from out of state parked there. The business advertises that weddings and banquets may also be held.

Nale, a former Waterville mayor who said he has lived in the city 66 years, emphasized he was at the meeting “as a taxpayer and nothing else.” He said the Residential-A zone, the most restrictive of the city’s residential zones, allows for homes, not home occupations. In each deed for homes on the street, there are protective covenants and restrictions, one of which is that the houses are used exclusively as single-family homes, according to Nale.

“That was our vision April 1, 1988,” Nale said. “I’m asking that you folks don’t change that.”

Nale said families with children live on the street, which is what was envisioned when his family developed it.

“I take pride in my city,” he said. “I pay my taxes and I just ask that you folks use structured language around what cannot happen in Residential-A.”

City Planner Ann Beverage said she drew up proposed language to regulate short-term residential rentals at the request of City Manager Michael Roy, who had received complaints about them. She said she focused on Residential-A as a starting point.

But Board Chairman Paul Lussier said he thought if short-term rentals are regulated in only the Residential-A zone, that could create issues in other residential zones. If the council adopts rules, they should be citywide, he said.

Lussier and board member Bruce White, who noted this was the first time he had heard of complaints, said they were not ready to make a recommendation Monday to the council. Other board members agreed they needed more time to research the matter.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro discusses mobile home parks Monday with the Planning Board. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Mayor Nick Isgro said the city should take a thorough look at the issue, discuss what people want for the city and create ordinances to match those wishes.

“The reality is, people buy a house in a residential neighborhood, they’re expecting that they have full-time residents where they’re living,” Isgro said.

Former City Councilor Phil Bofia said most Airbnb rentals are operated by single families renting out a room at their houses to one or two people to earn extra money to pay their taxes, and the owners should be allowed to do so.

Bofia said he did not have a problem with regulating short-term rentals in the Residential-A zone, but instituting blanket regulations would “completely destroy single families in the city of Waterville.”

Board member Steve Crate made a motion to postpone making a recommendation to the council to allow time for the board to continue discussions. White seconded the motion, which passed, 7-0.

In 2018, about 425,000 people stayed at Airbnb rentals in Maine, and Airbnb is just one source of short-term rentals. That number is 50% more than the previous year, and more than double the number who stayed at Airbnb rentals two years ago.

Airbnb hosts in Maine earned $66 million in 2018 — a 53% increase from the previous year, according to the Portland Press Herald. Total host earnings were up $23 million from 2017, according to Airbnb.

In the Waterville area, there are dozens of short-term rentals, although it is difficult to cite just how many are within the city limits, because websites advertising short-term rentals in Waterville include properties within and beyond the city’s border.

In January, Roy said the city had received a handful of complaints from neighbors of short-term rentals. Some of those complaints were about people hosting large gatherings and parking many vehicles on city streets. Other complaints referenced neighborhoods where owners of single-family houses are now renting rooms or entire homes to many people, generating increased traffic.

Residents who live on streets that include Country Way, Averill Terrace and Burleigh Street have filed complaints with the city about short-term rentals.

The city of Portland requires short-term rental units be registered with the city, since the City Council there approved rules two years ago. People must apply each year, and registration forms must be renewed by Dec. 31.

Beverage presented possible rules for short-term rentals, and clarified that bed and breakfasts are a type of short-term rental regulated by the city.

A bed and breakfast, for instance, is an owner-occupied, single-family dwelling in which the residents of the property provide short-term, overnight lodging to paying guests in rooms within the dwelling or permitted attached structures.

The inn functions like a private home with house guests. Breakfast can be the only meal served and only to overnight guests. Commercial kitchens and provisions for cooking in guest rooms are prohibited, and food and short-term residential rental licenses are  required. Bed and breakfasts are allowed in commercial zones and residential zones that allow home occupations.

Proposed rules Beverage drew up for short-term residential rentals in Waterville stipulate people may stay at a dwelling or room for up to two consecutive months, and short-term rentals are allowed in all residential zones, except Residential-A.

The city will consider stays longer than two months as conventional apartment rentals, according to Beverage. The definition of short-term residential rental is not intended to mean that anybody staying in an Airbnb would have to leave after two months.

Each rental room must have at least one parking space and be at least 120 square feet. The rentals must be subject to Fire Department inspection, meet safety codes and have a license from the city. A $120 annual fee must be paid before a short-term rental may operate.

Beverage said earlier Monday the Residential-A zone is the most-restrictive residential zone in the city in terms of what is permitted. Home occupations are allowed in the Residential-B zone, but not Residential-A. Bed and breakfasts are allowed in Residential-B.

Most of the city’s Rural Residential zones are south of Webb Road. Residential-A and B zones exist throughout the city.

In other matters Monday, Isgro recommended the city institute a zoning district for mobile home parks, an issue that was discussed earlier this year when Roy sent the board a memorandum explaining  that such parks cause a financial drain to other residential taxpayers.

Isgro said it is in the city’s best interest to create specific zoning rules for mobile home parks.

White said the timing of the mobile home issue seemed “like a reaction to what just happened on the solar farm.”

“We have to be careful about reacting to something we don’t agree with, maybe,” White said. “I’m just throwing it out there.”

He was referring to what had occurred two weeks ago with a proposal by Kevin Violette to develop a solar farm on County Road. The Planning Board recommended the council rezone the property to allow the solar farm, and the council voted 4-3 on July 21 to approve the zone change. But zoning changes require a two-thirds vote of the council, so it was rejected. Violette, at the council meeting, said he might develop a mobile home park there because the solar farm plan was rejected.

In response to White’s comment Monday, Isgro said the mobile home issue was not being brought up as a reaction to the solar farm matter.

Lussier recommended the board take up the mobile home and short-term rental issues at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 24, and at meetings following that until members come to a consensus about what to recommend to the council.

Weeks made a motion to do just that, White seconded it and the board voted 7-0 to approve.

Meanwhile, Violette presented an informal sketch for a housing or mobile home development on County Road, where he had wanted to develop the solar farm.

He said submitting the plan might be premature because there is talk of the council’s revisiting the solar farm request.

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