CONWAY — Selectmen will hold a hearing next Tuesday to consider regulating short-term rentals. It will be held at the Marshall Gym in the new recreation center at Kennett Middle School, as part of the selectmen’s meeting, which starts at 4 p.m.
Asked to explain the format of the Sept. 24 hearing, Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes said the selectmen are interested in getting input "from all sides of this short-term rental issue. There may be an opening statement by the board, or myself as their representative, but the purpose of the meeting is to receive input from the public before considering any kind of regulatory path.”
The issue, which has been simmering below the surface of housing discussions in town for years, heated up Aug. 20 after North Conway resident/planning board member Ray Shakir called on selectmen to take action on what he says has become a big problem in his neighborhood.
Coverage of the meeting sparking a lengthy debate on The Conway Daily Sun’s Facebook page, with concerns ranging from noise to the effect to short-term rentals such as Airbnb are having on workforce housing.
Shakir told the Sun on Wednesday that he plans to be at the hearing next Tuesday.
According to a Sept. 5 press release from Airbnb, the best-known internet-based short-term rental service, the company brought $6.4 million worth of host income to Carroll County this summer and 45,300 guests. Those numbers are higher than for any other county in New Hampshire.
Reached for comment Thursday, Victoria Laracy, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, said she, too, plans to attend the hearing.
“It is a complicated issue, and we are still researching the effects it is having on long-term housing in our community,” Laracy said.
The planning board itself recently voted to ask selectmen to act, and some selectmen say they have been getting many calls from residents.
At the Aug. 20 selectmen's meeting, Selectman Steve Porter (who serves as the selectmen's representative to the planning board) noted that "Airbnbs are becoming a little problematic for people living next-door” to the rentals. The (planning) board felt it was time they had the power to send a message to the board of selectmen that they really want to see something done.”
Porter said planning board members felt the town needs to create a subcommittee to examine the issue.
The Mount Washington Valley has a large number of short-term rental properties, Porter said, adding that while some may be concerned about the impact regulations might have on the tourist business and housing market, the gist of the planning board discussion was “at some point, you have to take the long-term residents’ opinions into consideration.”
Neighborhoods with homes built decades ago for four people aren’t designed to hold 20-30 short-term tenants at a time.
People who attended the planning board meeting to talk about short-term rentals were from North Conway Village, Porter said, a section of town that has an inordinately large number of short-term rentals.
“I think we need to look at this long and hard,” he said.
Selectman John Colbath asked about state legislative efforts on the issue.
Town Planner Tom Irving said that, as it happened, he had been in Concord that day to sit in on a subcommittee hearing on HB 655, the “disorderly house” bill filed by Rep. Ed Butler (D-Hart’s Location).
“We were not there to deal with short-term rentals,” said Irving. “It just so happens that short-term rentals sometimes result in disorderly houses.”
If passed, HB 655 would allow towns to enact bylaws that crack down on the owners of disorderly homes. At present, police can only go after disorderly people inside a home.
“You are talking about the 10 people who are there for three days, splitting a $100 ticket if they even pay it on the way out of town, and the owner never sees any of that,” said Holmes.
“The next week, he rents to another 10 people who are going to make noise, and the neighbor is still miserable.”
Irving said the committee was “wrestling” with whether the bill should go through the process on its own or be part of a larger bill, SB 69, that would give towns the authority to license short-term rentals.
“As of last week, the subcommittee sent it back to the main committee recommending ‘Ought to Pass as Amended,’” Holmes said Wednesday.
“It will then be taken up by the full committee and eventually sent out to the House for passage. And then to the Senate for concurrence and ultimately to the governor for a signature. So, there is a long road ahead.”