Julia Lindner, the executive director of the island political action non-profit ACK Now, is stepping down after four years at the helm of the controversial group.
Lindner announced the move on Wednesday, stating she was leaving her position to focus on her family, but would be staying on with ACK Now in a part-time role to lead its community initiatives, including the recently launched "Lease To Locals" program.
Lindner has been the public face of ACK Now since it was founded in late 2019 by seasonal resident Peter McCausland and led the group's charge into the divisive debate over short-term rentals. But now, she said, it's time for a change of pace.
"I think I already knew this but when your kids are old enough, but not old enough to drive, they're really dependent on you," Lindner said with a laugh. "It's no secret my kids go to school on the other side and I've been doing a ton of traveling."
Looking back on the last four years in which ACK Now spearheaded numerous warrant articles at Town Meetings seeking to restrict short-term rentals, Lindner acknowledged that her organization may not have succeeded in passing any of those proposals. But, she said, the group was able to raise awareness about what they believe are the negative impacts of commercial short-term rentals, and, most of all, Lindner said ACK Now was able to defeat the various zoning bylaw proposals put forward by the Planning Board and others that sought to codify and allow short-term rentals as a permitted use island-wide.
"When we first stumbled on the short-term rental issue, none of us at ACK Now knew what this was all about," Lindner said. "I think it took some research to realize that the vacation rental world on Nantucket and across the nation had changed and it was shaping the future of the island pretty rapidly. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done to create awareness around the issue. The community has a pretty strong understanding of what’s at stake if commercial short-term rentals are allowed to take over the island and neighborhoods.
"Beyond the awareness of the issue," Lindner continued, "I think the biggest win is having prevented changing zoning, which has been attempted now three times by the Planning Board and other individuals to allow commercial short-term rentals across the board with no limits. That is by far our biggest achievement. It’s not surprising that getting to a solution has been a little harder."
ACK Now has yet to name a successor for Lindner, and in the group's formal statement announcing that she was stepping down, it named the Nantucket Land & Water Council as an organization that would step up to assist in an advocacy role around the short-term rental debate.
"Julia has been an invaluable resource for ACK Now since its inception four years ago," said McCausland in a prepared statement. "We were fortunate to have her serve in this capacity full-time for as long as she did, and we remain eternally grateful for her contributions. The evolution in Julia's role allows us to focus on the Lease to Locals program while we explore options to continue our advocacy work."
Asked about the contentiousness of the short-term rental debate in which ACK Now played a leading role, Lindner said the group never got into mud-slinging, but maintained that the difficult conversation needed to happen.
"I’m really proud that we’ve taken the high road no matter what was thrown at us," Lindner said. "When you start having hard conversations about tough issues, it's bound to get difficult. It doesn't mean we should abandon the conversation. That’s what’s been driving me this whole time. Nantucket means a ton to a lot of us."
Carl Jelleme, the current board chair of ACK Now, said the group will still be focused on the short-term rental issue even as it navigates a leadership transition.
"The community conversation to establish short-term rental guardrails on Nantucket is underway," Jelleme said in a statement. "We're confident that the Nantucket Land & Water Council will remain a strong advocate on this important issue and that our supporters and donors will get behind its efforts. There's no doubt the island will have to stay vigilant and defend against articles that would gut residential zoning by allowing commercial STRs anywhere. In the meantime, we're looking forward to the Land Court judge's ruling, which we hope will confirm that STRs are allowed as an accessory use, which is in line with the island's tradition of year-round and seasonal residents renting out their homes."