CONWAY — After taking input concerning proposed short-term rental regulations last week, the Kearsarge Lighting Precinct’s Zoning Review Committee is scheduled to hold a follow-up meeting tonight (Tuesday) at 6 p.m.
“We’ll be meeting to review what we heard last week," committee member Rick Jenkinson said. "Hopefully, we’ll be able to decide which route to go and make a recommendation to commissioners, who are meeting Thursday.”
He and fellow commissioners Joe Difiore and M. Lynn Lyman can either accept the committee’s recommendation, deny it or come up with something else to bring to the annual meeting, which is set for March 19, Jenkinson said.
Members of the public also can submit a petition signed by 25 valid precinct voters and submit it by Dec. 19, with or without commissioners’ support, he added.
So far, the committee had held six meetings to examine how other communities have handled the controversial issue of short-term rentals. It has identified several options for changing the precinct ordinance:
• No change. Currently the ordinance says that “all residential properties that offer sleeping combinations, transient or permanent guests shall be owner- occupied and operated.”
• Owner-occupied short-term rentals, non-owner occupied long-term leases.
• Non-owner-occupied long-term rentals; short-term rentals only in condos/townhouses/approved timeshares. It requires that residential properties rented for less than 30 days be owner-occupied and operated, and allows for residential properties that are not owner-occupied and operated to be leased for more than 30 days.
• Short-term rentals only in condos, townhouses and approved timeshares.
• Non-owner-occupied short-term rentals allowed in condos, ski clubs and outing clubs. Short-term rentals would be allowed only with a conditional use permit granted by the precinct.
The majority of the 85 people attending the Nov. 25 meeting seemed to favor the first option, or a combination of 1 and 2, with a few voicing support for an amendment suggested by Wayne Beyer to extend the number of days allowed under the third option from 30 to 90.
Beyer said such a change would enable snowbirds — people who go to Florida for the winter — to rent their non-owner-occupied homes for up to three months.
The issue of property rights was at the core of discussion at that input session. Jim Umberger served as moderator. Seated at the front of the room were Jenkinson and fellow committee members Chris Meier, an attorney with Cooper Cargill Chant; former state representative Karen Umberger; resident Nancy Clark; and Realtor Josh Brustin.
Fiery speeches by such as zoning board of adjustment member David Van Note of Abbott Brook Road and Sarah Mallett, president of the Village at Kearsarge Condominium Owners Association, against non-owner-occupied short-term rentals were voiced during the packed meeting, which was held at the North Conway Water Precinct meeting room because the precinct’s offices in Kearsarge Village could not handle such a big crowd.
Van Note favored keeping the status quo, saying he had spoken with Realtors, who told him most people renting out their homes as short-term rentals lived outside the community.
“We are leaving our future in the hands of people who do not live in our community,” charged Van Note, saying such non-owner occupied rentals were “destructive to our quality of life in Kearsarge.”
He saluted current committee members and commissioners, and past zoning officials such as Mae Shay and Paul Whetton (both of whom were present), who he said took action to ward against unwanted growth and noise.
“This precinct is governed by people who volunteer their time because they love this community, not because they are trying to make a ton of money,” said Van Note to loud applause.
Speaking in favor of short-term rentals was Rick Park, of 30 Timberline Drive, who owns two chalets. He said he gives his renters specific rules concerning the use of the properties, and receives deposits up front, telling them renters they will not be returned if there any violations.
He said a few bad apples should not ruin the short-term rental option for owners.
“This is about property rights. Once they are taken away, they are gone,” said Park.
Zoning board of adjustment chair Stefan Karnop, also a Realtor, spoke out against the fourth and fifth options, saying the precinct lacks enforcement capability.
Realtor Antonella Bliss spoke in favor of Option 5 — allowing the rental of properties — provided it is done in a responsible manner.
The Kearsarge Lighting Precinct was formed in 1958 with a charter granted by the state Legislature after residents became alarmed about potential growth impacts after the town of Conway defeated a zoning ordinance proposal, Jenkinson said.
“It has been amended eight or nine times in the years since, with the amendment concerning owner-occupied rentals drafted in 1998,” Jenkinson told the Sun.
Short-term rentals have been an issue since last year in the precinct. Residents have complained that rentals taking place on properties such as the Andrews and Gleason properties that were subject to violation notices and are still pending in Carroll County Superior Court, were like “fraternity houses” with noise and traffic issues.
Tonight’s meeting is scheduled to take place at the Kearsarge Lighting Precinct building at 771 Kearsarge Road.
For more, go to kearsargelightingprecinct.org.