MOUNT DESERT — The Board of Selectmen has asked the town’s Land Use Zoning Ordinance (LUZO) advisory committee to look into how the town might best regulate short-term rentals, also known as weekly rentals.
Board members are mainly concerned that the growing number of weekly rentals decreases the availability of already scarce year-round housing.
“From the little bit of data that I’ve seen, it’s not as big a problem in our town as it is in some other parts of the island, but it’s coming,” Selectman Martha Dudman said at Monday’s board meeting.
“And we have no regulations in place now, so it seems to me that this is the time to be at least considering what our options are.”
Dudman said it has been a tradition for some people to go to their camps in the summer and rent out their primary homes to vacationers.
“I don’t see that as a big problem,” she said.
But she and others expressed concern about people buying houses solely for the purpose of using them for short-term rentals.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge we could potentially face island wide,” said Selectman Geoff Wood. “More and more properties are being bought up by people who never intend to live there. That, I believe, could be pretty clearly addressed to reduce the number of homes that go on the market and are bought (for that purpose). That kind of thing can be legislated.”
Planning consultant Noel Musson, who serves as facilitator for the LUZO advisory committee, told the selectmen that other municipalities have addressed the issue of short-term rentals through land use ordinances, licensing of rental properties or both.
“But before we come up with solutions, I think it is best to try to come to some agreement on what the issues are that we’re trying to address,” he said.
“We need to do some research to identify things like how short-term rentals may affect affordability and housing supply and how it may potentially contribute to changing neighborhood character.”
Musson acknowledged that addressing such questions can be “a really tough and emotional conversation” for a community. But he said that looking at the issue now, before it becomes a crisis, can help keep emotions in check.
“It needs to be a consensus-based approach,” he said. “If we can agree that these are the issues we’re trying to solve and these are the solutions, then that can help take the emotion out of it.”
But he pointed out that the proliferation of short-term rentals is an island-wide problem and that no one town can solve it on its own.
“It’s just going to trickle around the island,” he said. “I think it’s something to think about more comprehensively.”