Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 9, 2023
Stonington voters okay short-term rental ordinance
Town meeting approves Oceanville Bridge money
Stonington resident George Powell comments on the proposal to spend $100,000 for aesthetic improvements to the Oceanville Bridge. “I like the stones, but I don’t know if I like it a hundred thousand dollars’ worth,” he said.
by Leslie Landrigan
Stonington voters on March 6 passed a new ordinance to restrict short-term rentals and to require landlords to register their properties with the town. The measure passed 47-22 by a secret ballot vote at the annual town meeting.
Voters approved all 92 items on the warrant, including $1.9 million in spending.
The short-term rental ordinance, aimed at limiting investor-owned properties such as Airbnbs, drew more residents than usual to town meeting. After the measure passed, the crowd trickled away with only about a third of it left when the meeting ended at 6 p.m. after three hours in session.
Voters also approved a series of amendments to land-use ordinances. They include a requirement that a subdivision devote 10 percent of its units to low- or moderate-income housing. They also restrict building demolition and modification, accessory dwelling units in the shoreland zone, and conversions of commercial buildings to residential.
The select board proposed the short-term rental ordinance and land-use amendments with several goals in mind: preserving the vitality and historic character of Main Street, preserving the town’s water resources, and making more affordable housing available for working people.
In 2022, Stonington had 144 short-term rental properties, more than 10 percent of the town’s housing stock, and they generated $2.8 million in revenue, said Economic Development Director Linda Nelson.
Town Manager Kathleen Billings said the ordinance was just a start in trying to solve Stonington’s affordable housing shortage. “This helps prepare us so we can respond to the money that pours in here in a way that puts us on an equal footing,” she said.
Resident Michael Bloom, who owns a rental property next to his home on Granite Street, spoke against the short-term rental proposal. “It will make it worse for this town,” he said.
Bloom said he agreed the town has problems with water and workforce housing, but he didn’t think the ordinance would solve those problems.
“The value of your homes will go down,” he said. “In Deer Isle, the value of your home will go up.”
Planning Board Chairman Renee Sewall said she passionately supported the ordinance. “Our town’s in trouble, I’m in trouble as an employer,” she said. “We need to start somewhere because this problem is getting worse.”
Nelson emphasized that people who already own short-term rentals would be exempt from many of the ordinance’s requirements, which include submitting to inspections, meeting life safety codes, offering off-street parking and having an agent available to field complaints around the clock.
Voters approved overwhelmingly the expenditure of $100,000 to rebuild the Oceanville bridge with hand-cut granite on the existing structure. Oceanville resident Bill Turner led the campaign to re-use the granite rather than rip-rap, which the Maine Department of Transportation originally proposed. MDOT then agreed to modify the plans to include the granite, but at a cost of $100,000 to the town.
“Granite is really important to our town’s history, and the Oceanville bridge is a really good representative of our history in the granite industry,” Turner said. “I hate to see it bulldozed away.”
He said Oceanville residents have been raising money to repay the town for the added cost. “We’ll try to hit up the summer people who have more to give,” Turner said.
The select board intends to bond the $100,000 over three years.
Oceanville Road, the longest in Stonington, has about 100 residents on it, according to Nelson.
Voters approved $10,000 for the Playground Reserve account and $2,800 for upkeep of the athletic field. The select board has decided to move the playground across the street to the ball field, and Billings has ordered new playground equipment.
Inflation accounted for most of the increase in the $1,915,127 budget, up from $1,752,759, according to the Town Report. The town, however, only spent $1,534,158. Billings said the select board took $300,000 out of surplus funds to try to keep property taxes stable.
Resident Doug Johnson questioned the town’s practice of setting aside money in reserve accounts. “We keep calling it ‘reserve’ like it’s falling out of the sky,” he said. “It’s tax money.”
During a break in the action, Moderator Skip Greenlaw announced that brownies made by the town manager were available for consumption.