May 21, 2019
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Maine town asks for public input on proposal to ease housing crunch

Shawn St. Hilaire | Seacoast Online
Shawn St. Hilaire | Seacoast Online
Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral seen here in a Seacoast Online file photo.

The Kittery Planning Board has set a March 28 public hearing on proposed changes to the accessory dwelling unit ordinance, but continued last Thursday in its disarray around the issue, the chair proclaiming they need to separate the topics of accessory dwelling units and short-term rentals.

At the Feb. 28 meeting, accessory dwelling units were on the agenda once again, after the issue was first addressed in late January. Ordinance changes recommended by town staff and the housing working group, seek to make accessory dwelling unit development a small way the town can tackle the affordable housing crisis, as well as provide opportunities for existing residents to remain in their homes.

In addition to prohibiting accessory dwelling unit stays of less than 30 days, the proposal looks to eliminate the cap per year on units developed and make accessory dwelling units a more viable option for different types of properties. Town Manager Kendra Amaral called the amendments “a definite change,” as the last amendments pertaining to accessory dwelling units in 2011 intended to restrict their development.

The prior ordinance allowed accessory dwelling units of 400 to 800 square feet. Under the new proposal, accessory dwelling units could be 80 percent of the square footage of the attached home, but no larger than 1,000 square feet.

The January meeting focused largely around on what was seen as a flat-out ban of Airbnb stays in accessory dwelling units. The same conversation continued at Thursday’s meeting.

Planning Board member Mark Alesse said he may need to recuse himself from a final vote because he does rent out his property for short-term stays, but he was adamant about contributing to the conversation.

“I’m pretty much an expert on this matter because I’m doing it,” he said. “It’s a valuable resource for me, enabling me to help pay for the renovation that created the apartment, and to pay my property taxes. I have zero interest in a long-term lease. That apartment is there for my guests, my family, my friends and an occasional two-day stay through Airbnb, which provides me revenue. I don’t know how you can deny me the legitimate legal use of my personal property.”

[Town wants to allow more in-law apartments to help ease housing crunch]

Alesse said when the public hearing notice is posted, he hoped it would clearly reflect the proposed “ban” on short-term rentals in accessory dwelling units.

“If we advertise for a public hearing about ADUs, that in essence is a de facto ban on short-term rentals, people with an interest in that topic will not be aware that they should come and speak at this meeting,” member Karen Kalmar added. Kalmar asked the board if they could get a legal opinion on essentially banning one specific type of stay in a certain structure.

“My position was that we accept this, put this out into the wild and see if it helps the situation, because the current ordinance really does nothing,” member Russell White said. “If this brings more [accessory dwelling units] into existence, it will, in a very small way, help with some housing issues.”

Member Ronald Ledgett said Airbnb stays have been a “very controversial issue around the county,” and it was important the board took its next steps from consensus of the public.

“This is due for a public hearing,” Chair Dutch Dunkelberger agreed. “Let’s advertise it as a public hearing and see what the public says. We all think we see a problem occurring or coming down the road with short-term rentals. Let’s find out if Town Council feels the same way before we start addressing it and spinning our wheels.”

Amaral said looking at short-term rentals has been on the council’s to-do list for at least two years, and that this year’s goals include seeing the Planning Board “start to work on that.”

“What we’re asking for this evening is to schedule the public hearing, obviously that’s not the end of the process,” Amaral said. After an eventual vote from the Planning Board, if approved, the ordinance changes would head to the Town Council for an entire vetting process at that level.


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