Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral is seen here in a Seacoast Online file photo. Credit: Shawn St. Hilaire | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — Opinions were varied at Thursday night’s Planning Board meeting as members reviewed a proposal to amend an accessory dwelling unit ordinance, changes recommended as a way to add options to the town’s housing stock.

Much of the debate surrounded short-term rentals, popularly marketed online through websites like Airbnb, as the ordinance as proposed prohibits ADU stays of less than 30 days. Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Karen Kalamar felt the restrictions were an “ADU killer,” and would discourage local property owners from developing them.

In mid-2018, Kittery’s housing working group was tasked with examining the town’s rules for ADUs, which are defined as smaller, independent residential dwelling units on the same lot as a stand-alone single-family home.

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“The desire is for rules that provide opportunities for existing residents to remain in their homes, to provide new housing units compatible within existing neighborhoods, and to offer more affordable housing options,” said Planning and Development Director Adam Causey in a memo to the Planning Board.

The proposal seeks to eliminate the cap per year on units developed and make ADUs a more viable option for different types of properties. Town Manager Kendra Amaral called the amendments “a definite change,” as the last amendments pertaining to ADUs in 2011 intended to restrict their development.

Amaral said ADUs are a more “organic approach to growing the housing stock.”

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“Part of the challenge is the demand to be in Kittery is so high, with the stock being low, drives up the prices,” she said. “We’re really trying to get this to be an avenue for people to create units that they can age into when they decide they may want to downsize, people to come back to or stay in Kittery, and for our workers. We’re hearing from our business owners in town, both small and large, we’re hearing from the shipyard, the employers in the area that their employees can’t afford to live here and it’s making it harder for them to attract talented people.”

The prior ordinance allowed ADUs of 400 to 800 square feet. Under the new proposal, ADUs could be 80 percent of the square footage of the attached home, but no larger than 1,000 square feet. Amaral said the town does not want units that are “over-grand.”

Addressing the prohibition of stays less than 30 days, the Planning Board’s Mark Alesse said the amendments “effectively ban” Airbnbs from ADUs. He said he would vote against the proposal.

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“Preventing people from doing something that helps them get by financially is absolutely wrong,” Alesse said. “That’s really an intrusion on the rights of private property owners.” Alesse called short-term rentals a “terrific way” for residents to supplement their income, and help with high costs of various taxes.

“The focus of the (housing) working group was to think about ways to expand affordable housing,” said board member Drew Fitch. “The thinking behind discouraging or banning short-term rentals was that doesn’t really address the issue of affordable housing at all.”

Board member Ronald Ledgett raised several concerns with the ordinance as written, including evaluation, enforcement and administration. He felt the proposal needed more discussion and vetting before the board sent it to a public hearing.

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Causey said ADUs are a “specific way to increase housing very minorly,” noting the town has never seen the number of new units developed per year even come close to the current cap in place.

“It is fairly obvious ADUs are developed by local property owners,” Kalmar said. “From what I understand, the more restrictions on these sorts of units, the less likely they are to be funded.” She called the restrictions written into the ordinance “too onerous.”

No action was taken Thursday and the board decided it would revisit the proposal at a future meeting.