CONWAY — Voters at the polls at Kennett High School on Tuesday roundly rejected a proposal that would have allowed short-term rentals in residential areas. However, a related noise ordinance passed overwhelmingly.

Now the question is, what’s next?

Does the defeat of the short-term regulations mean the town will be mailing out cease-and-desist orders tomorrow to the 500-odd rental properties in Conway? The short answer is no.

Minutes after the results were announced, Selectman John Colbath said: “We do not have the information to decide what to do next.”

Added Selectman Mary Carey Seavey: “I want to hear what town attorney Peter Malia has to say. If we are going to issue cease and desists, it has to be orderly.”

Colbath said he believes many people voted against the regulations because they thought within a month there would be properties for lower-income people to buy. “The reality is that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Asked about the results, Town Manager Tom Holmes said, “I figured,” adding that the town seemed to turn against short-term rentals and developed an anti-tourist sentiment over the course of the pandemic shutdown.

Despite the controversy, by all accounts the election went smoothly. “It’s been very civil,” said Peter Donohoe, who was campaigning against short-term-rentals with his wife, Lynn Lymann who chairs the Kearsarge Lighting Precinct. “We’ve had some terrific conversations with neighbors and friends.”

There were two races for planning board. Incumbents Ben Colbath and Steven Hartmann, who had been serving as chairman, were challenged for their three-year seats by Erik Corbett and Steven Steiner, who has been serving as an alternate.

Colbath and Corbett won with 870 and 688, respectively. Hartmann, who asked voters to consider putting new blood on the board, received 385 votes.

Steiner received 342 votes.

Ted Phillips, Raymond Shakir, who was also serving as an alternate, and Eliza Grant ran for the two-year position created by the resignation of Earl Sires in February.

Grant took the seat with 675 votes, while Phillips came in second with 283 and Shakir came in third with 270.

Bob Drinkhall and Stacy Sand were the only two running for four three-year seats on the municipal budget committee.

However, chairman Jim LeFebvre in a letter to the editor Tuesday recommended voters write in two former members of the committee, Diane Ryan and Terry McCarthy. Also running a write-in campaign was a woman named Kit Hickey who campaigned beside Grant at the polls.

Write-in results were not available at press time, but Drinkhall got 962 votes and Sand 1,064. Bill Marvel was the one candidate to run for a one-year seat on the budget committee and he received 863 votes.

At around the time polls closed Tuesday, 1,544 ballots cast of which only about 120 were absentee. Last year, when the election was held in May in a drive-thru there were 1,457 voters but only 531 came though the highway garage. In 2019, the last regular April election, the turnout was about 1,030.

Hoping to enlarge the housing supply, Article 4 changes the criteria that must be met to allow the zoning board to grant a special exception to convert homes built before 1930 into multifamily housing. One of those conditions is the dwelling units shall be used for long-term residency; short-term transient occupancy of less than 30 consecutive days of any dwelling unit is prohibited.” Article 4 passed 1,014-468.

Article 8, a request by the Conway PD for $8,500 for a radar speed trailer, passed 940-548.

Article 20 asks the town to allow selectmen to appoint two representatives to a Carroll County Broadband Communications District planning committee passed 1,230-209.

Article 24 asked for South View Loop be accepted as a town road. The lead petitioner is Jeremy Abbott. He said the road is a fraction of a mile and has about a half-dozen residences. He said it had been maintained by a private association but the association is now defunct and the residents there are asking the town for help with the road.

Town Engineer Paul DegliAngeli asked selectmen and the budget committee not to recommend this article, because he said part of the road was built before the town required roads to be inspected to ensure they meet standards; because around 2006 a top coat of pavement was left unfinished; and because the petition came in after the Oct. 1 deadline, which is intended to give time for the town engineer to inspect the road before the snow falls.

South View Loop will have to wait for acceptance because the article failed 1,056-345.

Article 7 was the town’s $12 million operating budget passed 1,005 to 446.

Articles 8-15 called for raising money for various capital reserve funds all passed.

Article 18, for $8,500 for a radar speed trailer for police passed 940-548.

Article 19 called for a $10,000 contribution to the Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg, Maine passed 788-644.

Articles 25-34 call for donations of differing amounts to various local nonprofits. All of them passed easily.

Incumbent selectmen John Colbath and Steve Porter ran unopposed. Colbath received 1,185 votes and Porter, 1,078.

“I like my chances,” said Porter at the polls.

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(6) comments

KMB

Let’s look at the $$ of the short term renting ban in Conway.

1. Using the towns number of ~500 STR properties currently in residential, average $250/night and average 200 nights a year booked/property (some more). The ban is a loss of at least $2.3M/yr. to the state in the 9% tax fee paid by owners. Less money to the state means less money to the towns. And if all tourist towns ban STRs? !

2. The gross income to owners of short-term rental properties is at least a collective $25M (and maybe as much as $40M) – much of which was staying in town.

3. Some owners are local residents that supplement their income by renting out either rooms in their homes or have a separate cottage/cabin to rent out. This ban will likely result in driving these local folks out of Conway. How is this improving the need for affordable housing?

4. Less properties to be supported by cleaning, landscaping, etc. We used to own a rental property and paid out ~$10k in cleaning fees/yr. and ~$5k in landscaping. So, with 500 properties. That’s $7.5M less money being paid to locals. So how does that help them afford to stay in town?

5. As someone else described for an average spend of $500/tourist family visit ( and many will spend more) it equates to a minimum loss of $13M to small businesses in town. So how does this help small local businesses stay afloat?

6. The desire, or thought, of some voting in favor of the ban was to place more affordable housing back into the market. This argument has been made in many tourist towns when discussing short term rentals and has been shown to be a fallacy. Currently there is a dearth of properties for the second home market and median prices have risen over 15% in the valley in the past year. The few houses that do come to market are selling at way over asking and within a few days. If some of the rental properties are put back on the market it will be at an inflated cost and will be immediately snapped up by out-of-towners for 2nd homes. So how does this put affordable housing back into the town? And the NH real estate market is expected to grow at least another 8% in 2021

7. We just voted in a yearly operating cost for the town of Conway for ~$12M + another $1.6M in sundry other articles. The town manager had already pre-warned, in a Conway sun article, that the town could not afford the full burden of everything on the ballot. Needless, all monetary articles were approved (and I’m not even adding in the school articles). Yet concomitantly we have just voted to reduce the towns tourist generated annual cash flow by at least $25-40M and hurt many locals in their pockets. And the state is taking a hit also, which will have trickle down financial impact.

A strict ban was not the smart way to vote. Indeed, it was not a smart way for the town to offer to the voters. Instead, we could have taken a page out of the approach taken by Bar Harbor recently where they spent a couple of years gathering data about who the owners of rental properties are, (e.g. local, full time residents, 2nd home-owners, developers), why people wanted or needed to have rental properties (e.g. to be able to afford to stay in their homes, to temporarily support future retirement homes, for pure profit) who was objecting to short term rental’s and why?, what was estimated financial impact to the town of banning vs regulating etc, what the average salary of the local residents is and what can they afford to buy or rent?, what are the current house prices and rental cost? And so on and so forth. Yes, this data gathering phase cost the town some $$ but now they can make informed decisions. And even with all their data it is still a difficult issue to grapple with, but ultimately the town and its inhabitants will benefit through a balanced set of regulations. Will everyone be happy – of course not but decisions will have been made in a data driven fashion. Conway could have done likewise.

KMB

Conway has just opened Pandora’s box!

The vote against short term renting in residential area’s is, in my opinion, short sighted and likely voted on emotionally, not logically, by most. And as a previous comment stated it was likely brought to a head because of a few bad apple properties. Please read that previous comments above. He/she makes a slew of good points about the financial impact to the town, so I won’t repeat those here.

Many towns have struggled with this topic in recent years. Here are some solutions other towns have introduced when tackling this multi-faceted issue. San Francisco instigated a law that only full term residents can list their properties on the various rental sites – thereby helping their own residents support themselves and actually stay in their homes, while diminishing out-of-town multi property owners. Bar Harbor, ME, requires all properties to be registered and a license paid to the town, and has a ceiling on the number of short term rental properties in town. Bar Harbor recognized the need of many locals to supplement their income to stay in their homes, and also the value of tourism to the town. The City of Los Angeles limits property owners to120 days per year to host clients, again recognizing tourism as important. There are many other thoughtful and balanced regulations

At the state level, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin have all enacted legislation prohibiting short-term rental bans. And New Hampshire state has a bill, currently tabled, to prevent municipalities from banning short term rentals. This bill could open back up for discussion as it was tabled during covid.

Sadly, I anticipate a slew of law-suits to be forthcoming for the town of Conway and maybe even a class action suit from a collective of short term rental property owners. And the short term rental companies may join the lawsuits as they have in other cities.

Contrary to a simplistic ban, many local governments have mitigated the challenges brought by short term rental, through proper and fair regulations. The “battle” may have been won in Conway, but the war is just starting.

courtmrgrt

This is incredibly short sighted of members of the town. If the average visiting family from out of town spends $500 in meals and leisure, and every weekend through the year is booked at 500 rentals, that alone is $13M of lost income to the small businesses in North Conway. We own 2 small rentals in town catered to families. We have paid out, in less than 2 years, over $150K in cleaning fees to a local property manager.

These numbers are real. I highly recommend the town model anticipated loss of income as a result of this vote. Finally, we've gotten numerous offers on the properties we own, for way more than appraised values. I do not believe this move will loosen the housing market.

@Reporter - please feel free to email me for more information.

gidget

Agreed, my sister just said she has lost 4 houses already... she has a small company that cleans. All those people buying into the valley with hopes of renting... and all the no vacancy at the hotels already, what a shame.

B2MA

This is a very interesting decision given the likelihood that a just few bad apples may be spoiling the batch for short term rentals in Conway. The potential shut down of short term rentals likely triggers significant adverse impacts on the local economy: fewer people employed due to no cleaning and less lawn and home maintenance, less rental taxes to the state and local governments, presumed decline in property values across the board due to a potential glut of inventory on the market and fewer people interested in owning in the town if the short term rental option is removed, and not to mention the thousands of people that stay in the area each weekend at short term rentals that eat in the restaurants, shop in the local stores, etc. The pandemic has increased people’s desire to stay in isolated short term rentals relative to higher density hotels. Surely those people will just find an alternate location to vacation. I would assume enforcement of any shut down of short term rentals will cripple the town for years to come.

John Josephs

Well said. Couldn’t agree more

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