There are seven articles on Conway’s ballot that address housing. Articles 4 and 5 allow property owners, under special circumstances, to add long-term housing. Neither article would allow short-term rentals. We recommend voters approve both.
Then there are Articles 2, 3, 6, 21, 22 and 23, which would allow and regulate short-term rentals — which at last count total some 575 in Conway (down from the 700+ before the pandemic).
Article 3, which would allow short-term rentals in all residential areas, should be defeated. The rest we support. They define short-term rentals, give selectmen authority to regulate them, create a trust fund and establish a noise ordinance.
Although they have never been enforced, current town ordinances restrict short-term rentals to owner-occupied properties. Article 3 replaces that regulation and would allow any property owner, including absentees, to run their properties essentially as mini-hotels, as many do now.
Although Article 3's proposed regulations would require property owners to be permitted through an exhaustive application process, with attendant penalties for violations, we believe they fundamentally undermine the basic premise of Conway's current zoning laws, which establish separate zones for businesses and residences.
We’ve all heard horror stories of the misbehaving short-term renter next-door, but the truth is, of the hundreds of rental units, only a few are bad apples. And those bad apples tend to be absentee owners.
There are many ways to maintain property rights while preserving the integrity of residential zones, and a common approach is to establish a limit on the number of nights per year an owner can rent out his or her property — say, 90 or 120 nights. The limit allows homeowners to subsidize their properties yet is enough to discourage absentee buyers from owning properties simply to use as short-term rentals.
Because the town has not enforced existing regulations on short-term rentals, one justification for Article 3 is that the town will invite lawsuits if it suddenly reverses course and restricts them.
Our answer: So what? On principle, creating bad regulations out of fear of lawsuits is just plain wrong. And while taxpayers never want to waste money on lawyers, protecting our neighborhoods is a cause worth fighting for.
The selectmen, town staff and the special committee that originated the regulations and attendant articles have put in a herculean effort. That work doesn’t have to be wasted, just changed to protect homeowners from the intrusion of businesses as spelled out by the town officials who created the first zoning regulations back in the 1980s.