STOCKTON SPRINGS — Following its regular meeting Aug. 5, the Select Board held a Community Input Session to begin gathering information for the possible development of a short-term rental ordinance. Around 40 people came to the session in the downstairs meeting room at the Town Office for an hour-long discussion where people mostly remained civil and on-topic, thanks in part to the moderation of board member Betsy Bradley.

In February, the board had begun the process of developing an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals, mainly because of complaints about renters at a property known as the Cow Palace on Lighthouse Road, which is owned by an out-of-state couple. The effort was shelved because there was not time to gather information and have the necessary public hearings in time to have an ordinance ready for approval at the annual town meeting in June. In the meantime, a new town manager has been hired, and two of the three Select Board seats have turned over.

Many of those present Aug. 5 own property in town that they rent at least part of the year, and several of them said they rent, not to make extra money, but to pay their property taxes in the coastal town, which has few businesses on its tax rolls.

Susie Goddard, who spoke first, was one of these. She said she had moved to town in 1985 and started renting part of her home the following year. “I don’t do it for fun, it’s a lot of hard work, but I meet a lot of nice people,” she said.

Goddard said she thought Airbnb brought in “a different crowd” than those who had vacationed here in the past, and suggested an ordinance might require a minimum length of stay.

One of the meeting’s more emotional moments came fairly early, when Linda Rago, the mother of Jane Rago, one of the owners of the Cow Palace, stood to read a letter from her daughter, who was unable to be there herself. In the letter, which was also sent to the Town Office, Jane said “misinformation about the Cow Palace continues to swirl about, and I find this dismaying.”

She went on, “Last summer not one person contacted us at any time, and over 10 people have our cell (numbers) and emails … I have not been part of any conversation, nor was I even made aware of any specific incidents/problems by our neighbors.” She also mentioned that she and her husband pay two town residents to be contacts for renters and neighbors in case any problems arise.

After reviewing the history of the Cow Palace as a summer rental, and the town’s history as a place for summer visitors, Jane’s letter concluded, “… I am very happy that an ordinance will be drafted. Regulation will help protect all interested parties.”

Several points were made by multiple speakers: Property owners should vet potential renters, set rules for guests and enforce them.

Property owners and others agreed that a town registry for short-term rentals would be a good idea because it would enable rental owners to pass along referrals and also allow the town to know who is renting.

Some people wanted to require owners to be on the premises or at least in town while renting. Some wanted to see a minimum length of stay.

Residents who live near rented properties should let the owners know when there are problems with guests.

Some residents were concerned that properties owned as investments could reduce the supply of affordable housing for middle-income families. It was not clear whether this is happening in town now, or was just a potential problem to be avoided.

Resident John Vallely, who had previously complained about the Cow Palace, spoke repeatedly about visitors who made noise in the middle of the night, and seemed to think having contact people in town was insufficient, that only an on-site owner could adequately deal with that problem.

“When the owner of the property is 1,000 miles away, it’s not much of a comfort if someone’s in your backyard at 2 in the morning,” he said. He said more than once that he did not object to owner-occupied rentals, or rentals where the owner lived nearby.

Town Manager Mac Smith reminded those present that any homeowner has the right to rent their home on a short-term basis.

Resident and short-term rental owner Jillian Liversidge said she uses the website Vacation Rental By Owner to rent her property, and she makes a point of checking reviews about potential guests and sets clear guidelines for her renters.

Patricia Twum, a neighbor of the Cow Palace, said she had come to town a couple of years ago from Jamaica after being recruited by Northern Light Health. She was skeptical at first, she said, but has come to love Stockton Springs. She said there had been a lot of problems with noise at the Cow Palace, and said she had complained to the owners in the last year, and then was harassed by the renters she complained about.

She pleaded with those at the meeting, “We have to remember that we live in a small community, and we are neighbors.” Guests come and go, she said, but neighbors are always there.

For many speakers, the solution seemed to come down to mutual respect among neighbors and taking care in choosing renters. One of the last to speak, Jessica Brooks Brewer, said she has strict requirements for renters, and does not rent to everyone who expresses interest in her property. One of her requirements is that guests observe quiet hours after 9 or 10 p.m., depending on the location of the property. Like several other owners of short-term rentals, she liked the idea of a town registry for rentals. She said her informal count had numbered 52 short-term rentals in town.

At the end of the meeting, Bradley summed up, suggesting that the next conversation begin with the impact of a potential ordinance and how it could be enforced. The next Community Input Session will be Thursday, Aug. 19, at 6 p.m. at the Town Office. Participation on Zoom will be arranged for owners of short-term rentals who live out of state.

Related Headlines