Nantucket voters send short-term rental regs back for more work
Decline to pass zoning rules to either restrict or allow rentals
AFTER CONTENTIOUS months of debate, Nantucket voters at town meeting Monday night passed basic regulations for short-term rentals, but declined to take any action on dueling proposals that would have either dramatically curtailed who can offer short-term rentals or largely given the green light for them across the island.
“The best way to think of it is they kicked it back to committee,” said Henry Sanford, an island Realtor who supports allowing short-term rentals across the island.
As CommonWealth recently reported, residents of the wealthy summer island destination have been struggling since last year’s town meeting over how best to regulate the burgeoning industry. There are more than 2,000 short-term rentals on an island with just over 12,000 housing units. Some residents have worried that the ubiquity of visitors booking stays on Airbnb and similar websites will harm the island’s idyllic character, and they say the purchase of homes for short-term rental income by off-island investors will drive up prices and make it even harder for workers to live on the island. But others argue that it is the ability to rent houses out that lets many island residents afford a second home on Nantucket, and limiting short-term rentals would devastate the island’s tourism-based economy.
The article that passed, by a 610 to 302 vote, creates a basic regulatory framework for short-term rental operators. Each rental will have to be registered with town officials. Owners will have to name a manager who is available to address unit issues, and rentals will have to adhere to town building and fire codes, be current on their property taxes, and maintain insurance.
Seasonal residents could rent properties only with a special permit, and off-island investors could not rent properties at all. The debate over these articles had exploded over their impact on the island’s residents and its economy.
Ultimately, in a narrow 442 to 414 vote, after an hour of debate, residents decided to send both articles back to the town’s Finance Committee, Select Board, and Planning Board for further study. Attendees said without that decision, it appeared likely that both zoning articles would fail.
Nantucket Planning Board vice chair David Iverson, who made the motion to continue studying the zoning, said he wanted a way to get all the stakeholders to the table to work out meaningful regulations. “I think it was so divisive, there was so much misinformation, and in my opinion, it wasn’t a healthy debate for the community to have,” Iverson said. “It was neighbor against neighbor, not based on accurate data, and it just wasn’t healthy. In my opinion, this is a better way to address the situation.”
Sanford said the town officials can now appoint a special commission to study the issue and make more nuanced recommendations for zoning at next year’s town meeting, incorporating data gathered through the new registration requirement. “A lot of people were saying it’s too premature, it isn’t well thought out,” Sanford said.
Tobias Glidden, executive chairman of ACK Now, claimed victory, since although the ACK Now article was not passed, neither was the article that would have allowed rentals to proliferate unchecked. “It was a huge victory for all the folks in the community who value neighborhoods and value affordable housing, striking down a totally reckless article,” Glidden said. “I think the whole town was very clear that the town and the investors need to go back to the drawing board and do something that’s actually sustainable for the community.”Selectman Matt Fee said he hopes the various town boards will “come up with something that’s a reasonable, fair path forward.”
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket’s Economy, which had opposed the more restrictive zoning changes, in a statement called the vote “a prudent decision” to “commit to further study and deliberation of best practices for managing and preserving short-term rentals which – along with maintaining non-discriminatory property owner rights – are critical to a strong Nantucket economy.”