MADISON — Selectmen have decided they want to ask voters in March whether they want the town to pursue regulations on short-term rentals rather than risk having proposed ordinances fail at the polls as happened in Conway.
Madison selectmen and planning board members have spent the summer trying to craft STR regulations to propose to voters in March.
Conway voters rejected warrant articles in April to explicitly allow short-term rentals. Now Conway is in Carroll County Superior Court asking a judge to issue a declaratory judgment on the town's zoning. There are more than 500 STRs in Conway. There are between 170 and 220 STRs in Madison.
Madison selectmen's chair Bill Lord came up with the idea of first asking voters if they want town officials to come up with regulations rather than putting articles on the warrant that may fail.
"Do we have the cart before the horse? " said Lord.
Resident Shawn Bergeron, owner of Bergeron Technical Services, a planning and zoning consultant, suggested the question be simple. He said STRs should be defined and then voters should be asked if they want to allow them or not in residential zones. Previously Bergeron drafted an ordinance for Madison.
"If the answer came back that townspeople want to support regulations, that gives us another whole year to look at some better ways perhaps to do it," said Bergeron. "I just don't think we shouldn't do anything."
Selectman Michael A. Mauro said asking voters for their opinion before crafting an ordinance also could save the town expense and hassle.
Selectman Josh Shackford expressed ambivalence about STRs.
"I don't want to live next to a short-term rental," said Shackford. But "how you address it without taking away somebody's rights?"
At the same time, he said, "I don't want my rights taken away to peace and quiet."
Lord wondered how the town could enforce regulations. He said Madison has about 2,500 residents, and 1,900 are registered voters. Of those, about 300 vote and fewer than 100 come to annual town meeting.
"So, less than 50 people can decide this for the other 2,500 is the danger, right?" said Lord. "The good news is it's it's an open process. The bad news is in the process, you don't have too much participation."
Selectmen agreed that any proposed warrant article on STRs would have to be done at the polls rather than by open town meeting vote.
Shackford said there should be a public hearing before the vote.
Madison Town Clerk/Fire Chief Michael Brooks suggested the hearing could be conducted at the same time as the annual session on the budget.
He said if there were to be a zoning change, a public hearing would be required.
Selectmen agreed to share their consensus opinion with the planning board, which meets next on Oct. 6.