CONWAY — Conway selectmen Tuesday voted to form a committee of town and precinct officials to examine the issue of short-term rentals. They vowed the public would have input in the committee's process.
"I just want to show forward progress," said selectmen's chairman David Weathers.
After over 100 citizens came out to the selectmen's Sept. 24 public hearing on short-term rentals, town officials said they had “a lot to digest.”
The short-term rental issue heated up Aug. 20 after North Conway resident/planning board member Ray Shakir called on selectmen to take action about what he called a big problem in his neighborhood.
At Tuesday's meeting, town manager Tom Holmes asked the board if it wanted to form some sort of committee.
"We need to move forward," said Selectman Carl Thibodeau. "This has got to be done quickly and expeditiously without doing it so fast that we miss something. I want to get it right the first time."
Thibodeau recommended having a committee of four town officials and then holding hearings by late November. Thibodeau volunteered to be on the committee and said he's already done a substantial amount of research.
Selectman Mary Carey Seavey said the panel should number five people.
Selectmen eventually decided the committee would be made up of Holmes, Planner Tom Irving, Selectman Steve Porter, Conway Fire Chief Steve Solomon and Thibodeau.
Porter insisted that committee meetings be posted. Agendas are on the town website.
Holmes said the town needs to find out how many short-term rentals there are and where they are located. There are thought to be as many as 800 in town. He said there are companies that could figure that out for a fee.
The town also needs to determine what laws are already on the books that the town can use to regulate short-term rentals if it chooses to.
Holmes said there are bills pending in the Legislature that would help towns regulate disorderly households and give the towns the same powers as cities when it comes to regulating them.
Speaking from the audience, Shakir said the number of people on the committee is "irrelevant." He said the committee just has to be well-rounded.
"What's relevant is everybody that's got an iron in the fire is fairly represented," said Shakir, describing interested parties as Realtors, homeowners, planning board, zoning board, select board and fire department.
Selectmen then took some time to mull what to do.
"I think we have a lot of boards floating around the town," said Porter, who advocated for senior staff and a couple of selectmen to look at the issue.
"I have a lot of faith in the people who work here at the town office to come up with a viable plan."
Porter, who said he wanted the process to move forward, offered to sit on an in-house committee.
Seavey said she was open to have members of the community participate.
"I don't think having three people to make a determination on something this big is the right size committee," said Seavey.
Selectman John Colbath said he had a "strong feeling" that selectmen should "take action and move forward." He worried that a committee would be bogged down in conflicting opinions.
"Things die in committee, and I would hate to see that happen," said Colbath, adding if a committee of town officials is formed, there still needs to be a way to get public input.
Thibodeau said the committee ought to draft proposals, then hold another public hearing or invite stakeholders.
"I agree with John — I think we should have as small a committee as we can get away with to draft the initial portions of it, but at some point and very shortly into the process, go back and take public input again," said Thibodeau.
Weathers and Porter also said they supported doing a small committee with public input in the process.
The selectmen voted unanimously to approve the committee.