We know of a local housekeeper who had to have her teeth pulled a few weeks ago and was planning to pay for dentures with the money she earned from cleaning short-term rental properties. Without that work, she won't be able to afford them.
Her story is one example of the unintended consequences unleashed by the Conway selectmen’s decision to slam the door on all the STRs in town. We wonder whether they stopped to consider the financial impact this would have on the ability of hundreds of housekeepers, property managers, carpenters, handymen and contractors — all locals — to make a living.
To be fair, Town Manager Tom Holmes repeatedly and publicly stated that if the warrant articles regulating STRs in residential neighborhoods failed at the polls — which they did — the town would have no recourse but to enforce the existing ordinance, which bans them. But up until now, these regs — which allow only owner-occupied STRS, a tiny minority of the 500-800 rentals in Conway — have never been enforced.
Meanwhile, the board of selectmen remains silent, ducking the most important zoning question since zoning was created in Conway in the 1980s. They dished off the dirty work of enforcement to Holmes, apparently inferring that a "no" vote on allowing STRs in all neighborhoods also means voters wouldn’t tolerate any.
We disagree. Despite the vote, we don’t accept that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of locals who both directly and indirectly depend on STRS for their livelihood, would agree either.
We believe that short-term rentals deserve a short-term solution that would not only bail the selectmen out of this mess but also buy a bit of breathing room for property owners — allow a grace period for the summer. Even a little bit of notice would allow owners (and renters) to plan ahead and not force thousands of vacations to be canceled. It also allows the town time to evaluate the effectiveness of the new noise ordinance, which did pass.
And, as we’ve said in past editorials, there are numerous other ways short of a total ban to discourage those absentee-owner bad apples, including limiting the number of rental nights per year.
Former selectmen and school board member Mark Hounsell made a passionate argument to selectmen to protect local neighborhoods. Fair enough, but what about the locals who depend on STRs to put food on the table? Who is speaking for them? Who is speaking for the housekeeper who now can't afford dentures?
Shutting down STRs the way selectmen did without adequately noticing the public is bad for Conway's reputation as a tourist destination, bad for business, bad for the town and bad for school budgets, which depend on tax revenues from a healthy local economy.
It is also bad governance and just plain unfair to hundreds of property owners and thousands of vacationers who have made summer plans — and the locals who depend on them for a paycheck.