FRYEBURG, Maine — At their meeting last Thursday, Fryeburg selectmen blasted the town of Conway for instituting paid parking and prohibiting short-term rentals.
Conway selectmen, through Town Manager Tom Holmes, issued a statement last week explaining that since voters in April rejected their proposed set of STR regulations that would legally allow such rentals, the town has no option but to enforce existing regulations that prohibit non-owner-occupied rental units in residential zones.
Conway has also started charging non-residents $20 per day to park at three popular recreation sites and prohibiting out-of-towners from using the parking lot at Conway Lake. The steps were taken in the wake of last summer's overuse of the sites during the pandemic, which left trash pickup and other problems for the town to deal with.
Just across the border in Fryeburg, Selectman Kimberly Clarke said selectmen there recently had a sign put up at Weston's Beach stating they are keeping it open for free so long as the public respects the town's property.
She contrasted that approach to "Conway telling low-income families and families with young kids, 'We don't want you to come to our town.'
"Fryeburg's response is that 'we are a regional economy, and that we welcome everybody who respects our beach, we welcome people,'" said Clarke.
"What Conway has done is an abomination. It's horrible," she said.
Conway selectmen defended their approach on the OpEd page of the Sun last Thursday, saying, "STRs in Conway proliferated to the point where over 10 percent of the residential properties in town were being rented short-term. This disrupted the quality of life in traditional residential neighborhoods and, in many instances, abused the property rights of abutters and nearby neighbors.
"When the town started to receive a notable number of complaints regarding short-term rental activity, it studied the issue and determined that they were never a permitted use in residential zones," the selectmen said.
Clarke also took aim at the anti-short-term-rental letters she's been reading in the Sun, saying they were "nasty" and "vile" and the worst she's seen in 23 years of living in the valley.
"These are rich, elitist people that don't like young people with their kids in their neighborhood," said Clarke. "They're mostly retirees, a lot of them are self-employed, and they've got a lot of money and (disgruntled) that young families are coming into the neighborhood."
Clarke said short-term owners are trying to resolve the issues.
"It blows my mind," said Clarke. "I've never seen a town that was the No. 1 tourist destination in New Hampshire, that was known for being a welcoming town and in less than a month, turn their image around to something mean and nasty."
Clarke, a Realtor, said three days after the town announced it was going to crack down on short-term rentals, 22 Conway homes went on the market.
Selectmen's chair Tom Klinepeter also weighed in, saying members of his family take a vacation every year, coming up from Kentucky and Pennsylvania. They had planned to rent short-term this summer in Conway, a weekly rental that would have cost $3,600, not counting the cleaning fee.
Their party had 13 people ranging in age from 6 to 95. They enjoy seeing the attractions and shopping. He said they like to use short-term rentals so they can have barbecues, sit out side, and relax.
"They easily spend ten grand every year on vacation," said Klinepeter. "Guess what? They are going somewhere else."