Freedom planning board 71521

Freedom Planning Board Chair Anne Cunningham (foreground) explained that Freedom officials seek to regulate, not eliminate, short-term rentals At table are fellow planning board members (from left) Carol McIntire, Bill Elliott, alternate Jeff Nicoll and recording secretary Melissa Donaldson. (DAYMOND STEER PHOTO)

FREEDOM — Following the lead of towns like Madison and Conway, the Freedom Planning Board last Thursday began mulling regulations for short-term rentals to be brought to voters next March. 

Selectmen at their June 28 meeting said such rentals should be regulated but not eliminated. Selectman Melissa Florio estimates the town has about 106 short-term rentals.

The planning board consists of chair Anne Cunningham, William Elliott, Pamela Keith, Carol McIntire, Paul Olzerowicz, Jeffrey Towle, alternate Elizabeth Earle, alternate Jeff Nicoll and selectmen's representative Leslie R. Babb.

Cunningham said selectmen seek to license short-term rentals, "and the planning board is going to worry about the land use part of it. ... Right now, we are at the very beginning. If you came here thinking we were going to prohibit them outright, that is not what we are going to be doing."

During the hour and 15-minute discussion, many variables were discussed. No decisions were made. 

"This was a working session," Cunningham said July 16 in an email to the Sun. "This will be an ongoing process."

Topics will include regulating STRs by zoning district or not, defining STRs, deciding whether they must be owner occupied, capping the number of licenses, limiting the number of days an owner can rent the property and whether STRs should be a permitted use or approved by special exception.

Planning board members said they are concerned about preserving the town's character and also housing stock.

"I think Freedom is a very nice, quiet, rural community, and that's why people come here," said Elliott. "I would like to keep it as much that way if I could."

Whether STRs should be a permitted use or approved via special exception was a topic with much debate.

Cunningham said if it's a permitted use, a person could rent his or her property short-term with a license. If a special exception is required, the homeowner would need a license and zoning board approval, and abutters would have to be notified. 

"One way to control the investment property piece of it is to limit the number of days because an investment property needs to be rented out for a certain number of days at a certain price to ... give the investor some profit," said Cunningham. 

Nicoll said limiting rental days is a tool that could prevent hotel chains from buying homes and turning them into STRs, something he said hotel chains are known to do. 

He suggested the board do the math on how many days it would take for STRs to make a profit and then they can decide on a limit after that. 

Olzerowicz said he felt requiring a special exception would be redundant and time-consuming for the applicant and suggested there could be another way to notify abutters.

Nicoll argued that having the special exception process would give "the neighborhood an opportunity to have a voice." 

Board members seemed to mostly agree that STRs are rentals made for less than 30 days. 

Cunningham said the board has until late January to finish its proposal for the 2022 warrant. 

At the end of the meeting, she allowed some of the 18 people an audience to speak. Resident Robert Rafferty asked whether STYRs are legal now. Cunningham replied they are not. 

In an email to the Sun, Town Administrator Ellen White ifollowed up by saying Monday that the town isn't enforcing a short-term rental prohibition.  

State Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) said he was pleased the planning board was looking at the issue and said the town should make sure STR owners pay rooms and meals taxes.

McConkey also said the town could set up a licensing process that includes abutter notification without requiring a special exception. 

Resident Patty Safallo said she was concerned about the housing stock being devoted to STRs in Conway. In Conway, residents voted down regulations to allow short term rentals and now the town is seeking to shut them down.

"I don't want their problems to migrate this way," she said.

The planning board meets next on Aug. 19. 

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