Freedom—January 22, 2022—The Freedom planning board after a brief public hearing Thursday voted to place a proposed warrant article to regulate short-term rentals on the ballot.
Among the key provisions of the proposed ordinance is if passed March 8, short-term rental owners would be limited to renting their properties to 90 days per year. Originally, the planning board was considering 45 days but Les Babb brokered the 90-day compromise on Jan. 6.
Because the planning board made material changes to its draft ordinance on Jan. 6, a second public hearing had to be held Thursday.
Chair Anne Cunningham on Thursday said the planning board could not vote to change the ordinance again because there is a 14-day period between public hearings but state law mandates traditional annual meeting towns like Freedom have their planning board propose zoning changes. She said Thursday’s meeting was about whether the planners wanted to move forward with the proposed ordinance as written Jan. 6 or shelve it until next year.
Planners voted 6-1 to put the ordinance on the ballot for March 8. Member Paul Olzerowicz was in the minority.
The planning board consists of Anne Cunningham (chair), William Elliott, Pamela Keith, Carol McIntire, Paul Olzerowicz, Jeffrey Towle, alternate Elizabeth Earle, alternate Jeff Nicoll and selectmen’s representative Leslie R. Babb.
On Thursday, Babb was absent; selectman Ernie Day sat in his place. Towle and Keith were absent. Earle was a voting member.
The board took comments from the 25 or so people in attendance. Only a handful of people spoke and most were for the ordinance; among them was Freedom Shores Road short-term rental owner Ned Kucera.
“Compared to the previous version of history it’s night and day, said Kucera. “I suppose with compromises not everybody should be happy, but I should say it’s very workable.”
Not everyone was thrilled with the final draft.
STR owner Tom Wilkinson objected to a provision that called for STR owners to turn over their annual rooms and meals tax documentation.
“That’s a private document,” said Wilkinson. “I understand the reason you tried to get it but I don’t I don’t think it’s right.”
Planners at a previous meeting said that the documentation could help them determine if the owners are obeying the 90-day rule.
Wilkinson also asked how grandfathering would be handled and Cunningham replied the ordinance doesn’t address grandfathering. She said she didn’t feel that rooms and meals reports are private because they only pertained to the rental.
The Sun asked if the ordinance would be affected by SB 249.
Cunningham said as written the bill allows towns to require a registration process and charge fees to cover the cost. However, she is aware amendments are coming. She plans to submit written testimony, as a Freedom resident with planning board experience, to the state senate commerce committee, which is hearing the bill on Tuesday.
What’s more, Cunningham said that a mailing about the STR ordinance that was sent to residents was actually full of misinformation such as that the planning board was seeking to ban STRs. In fact, the planning board is seeking to regulate them.
“If this was a ban on short-term rentals, section 2.1 would say, and it does not say, short-term rentals are prohibited,” said Cunningham. “So, that is not factually correct.”
The complete text of the proposed zoning ordinance can be found on the Freedom town website at townoffreedom.net.