Hard Feelings, Resignations After Short-Term Rental Work Group Offers Proposals

JohnCarl McGrady •

Short-Term Rental Work Group member Jim Sulzer called the Select Board's criticisms of the group's proposals a "theatre of the absurd."

Six members of the Short Term Rental Work Group resigned in protest in the wake of a tense discussion with the Select Board on Wednesday that Work Group member Jim Sulzer described as a "theatre of the absurd."

During the discussion, Select Board members Matt Fee and Malcolm MacNab pushed the Work Group on their finalized proposal for short-term rental (STR) regulations, which MacNab suggested "[do] not change anything we presently have."

Those comments struck Sulzer and other Work Group members as dismissive of the time and effort they put into crafting a consensus proposal.

"It took a lot of work to...come up with a meeting in the middle and a pretty reasonable meeting in the middle," Sulzer said, "but [the Select Board] didn't tell us the fine print. The fine print was that any regulations we came up with, they had to be the ones Malcolm MacNab and Matt Fee wanted."

The regulations would limit STR operators to renting a single property, block corporate ownership unless every shareholder or partner is a “natural person,” and block STRs in units deed restricted for affordable or attainable housing, among other restrictions.

Sulzer submitted his resignation letter Thursday evening after initially suggesting he would wait to officially resign until the Work Group could hold a meeting.

"We were welcomed by uninformed ignorance from the Select Board," Work Group member and Planning Board Vice Chair Dave Iverson, who resigned Thursday afternoon with a formal letter to Select Board chair Dawn Hill Holdgate. "The response from the Select Board was disrespectful and unproductive."

Sulzer and Iverson have been joined in their resignations by Kathy Baird, Peter Schaeffer, John Kitchener, and Karen Zagayko, meaning that aside from Select Board member Tom Dixon, the only members of the Work Group that have not yet resigned are ACK•Now Executive Director Julia Lindner and Advisory Committee of Non-Voting Taxpayers Vice Chair Peter Khan, both of whom dissented from the final proposal.

“What I expected from the Select Board was an open and frank dialogue about our bylaw package with the going-in assumption that we had worked very hard to come up with the best consensus-based approach that could pass at town meeting and also stand the scrutiny in the eye of the law; that we had not made decisions frivolously or without sacrifice,” Baird, who represented Nantucket Together on the Work Group, said in her resignation letter. “I expected to be asked questions about our overall approach, the data presented to us, specifics, and rationale for each proposed policy. I did not expect to be dismissed, denigrated, and attacked without the ability to respond.”

MacNab and Fee harshly criticized several provisions of the Work Group's proposal at Wednesday's Select Board meeting, including the exemptions for pre-existing STRs, the enforcement strategies, and the codification of STRs by right across the island, at times drawing from letters submitted by Lindner and Kahn.

“We’ve been saying all along that the constitution of the [the] group was biased and the proposal presented to the Select Board is clearly biased,” Lindner said in response to the news of the resignations. “Like [MacNab] said last night, this proposal would do nothing to change the status quo. We’ve demonstrated our willingness to help develop a solution and we hope to be able to continue to do so.”

Sulzer and Iverson both felt the response from the Select Board failed to acknowledge the 10 months of effort put in to reach a consensus that garnered the support of seven of the Work Group's nine members, with Iverson saying the Select Board displayed "a level of disrespect to the Work Group that is just absurd."

"I will stand behind the Work Group," Iverson added. "We were asked to bring forward a consensus article, and that is what we did."

Iverson was particularly upset by an episode late in the meeting in which MacNab suggested the Work Group might meet just for fun.

"I don't want to go 'yeah, go meet some more, have a good time,’" MacNab said in response to a question about the future role of the Work Group.

"This hasn't been a lot of fun, Malcolm [MacNab]. You make it sound like we've just been sitting around drinking root beer," Schaeffer replied. "I just felt that your comment was just rude."

MacNab apologized for his statement.

Even without the criticism from the Select Board, Work Group members may have chosen to resign.

"We would want to disband the [Work Group] now anyway because we want to be able to advocate for [the regulations] without being bound by open meeting law," Sulzer said.

Initially, Sulzer and Iverson suggested the Work Group would have a meeting next week to discuss resignations and draft a formal statement to the Select Board, but with almost every member having now resigned, that seems unlikely.

This change may have been in part because it wasn't immediately clear if the Work Group would be able to meet, at least not with the facilitator the Town paid to run their meetings previously. During Wednesday's Select Board meeting, Select Board Vice Chair Brooke Mohr said that “there's no funding for further meetings."

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