Vacation rental petition moved ahead



BAR HARBOR — Mid-January feels like a lifetime ago, Julia Thomas told the Town Council Tuesday. That’s when she began circulating a citizen initiative petition to change the town’s rules for vacation rentals. 

At the time, she and others who host visitors on their own property using Airbnb or other vacation rental businesses were planning for more or less a normal season. Now, because of the pandemic emergency, she’s not planning on hosting any vacationers at all for a while. 

“I blocked off my calendar for the entire season,” she told councilors. “I did that a month ago.” 

But the question of how the town regulates vacation rentals remains, even though it’s a moot point for the moment. Eventually tourism will resume, even if it looks different, and the families who rely on vacation rental income to be able to afford to live here will begin hosting again. 

Official consideration of the petition, which would create a new category of “hosted” vacation rentals, is set for the May 19 Town Council Meeting. 

Hosted rentals would be for residents renting all or a part of their own year-round residence, one which qualified for a homestead tax exemption. This category would not be subject to the five-day minimum currently applied to all vacation rentals. 

“I submitted this petition because I feel it is necessary to prevent dozens of people, including me, from becoming outlaws this season,” Thomas said. 

The petition is a Land Use Ordinance amendment change. It would change the definition of “vacation rental” to “differentiate between owner-occupied vacation rental properties (homestead qualified, year-round residences) and dwelling units owned by non-residents,” according to the explanation of the change on the draft warrant articleNon-residents would be prohibited from doing more than a single vacation rental per dwelling unit and from renting for stays of fewer than five days. 

The petitioner’s committee, the group working to collect signatures for the petition, includes Thomas, Earl Brechlin, Amber Howard, Zac Gilhooley and Shawn Keeley. 

This spring, the town Planning Department has prepared proposals for a new vacation rental regulatory framework. It also envisions fewer restrictions on rentals that are in the host’s permanent residence.  

“I understand that the town is working on its own package along the same lines,” Thomas told the council. “I hope this can work together with that.” 

 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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