Residents of Monomoy on Thursday assailed a short-term rental property owned by The Copley Group which they say has brought noise, trash, drunken parties, and traffic to one of Nantucket’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
The comments came during a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals, as the Monomoy residents urged the board to find that The Copley Group’s use of the property solely as a commercial short-term rental in a residential neighborhood constituted a violation of Nantucket’s zoning code.
Matthew Westfall, a seasonal resident who owns a property next door to The Copley Group’s short-term rental at 32 Monomoy Road, said it “has brought nothing but trouble to Monomoy and abutters,” while rattling off a list of alleged incidents stemming from renters there, including: criminal trespass; illegal cutting of trees; excessive noise; and “raucous” parties such as one house party that attracted “over 200 kids.”
The Copley Group, Westfall said, had shown itself to be “self-serving, litigious, and unwilling to behave with any sense of deficiency to their neighbors, our community, or the fragile environment. I did not receive so much as an apology.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals, however, remained unmoved. As it had done in previous and similar challenges of short-term rentals around Nantucket, the board voted unanimously to deny the appeal, and affirmed building commissioner Paul Murphy’s decision that the short-term renting of the property constituted an allowable residential use.
“32 Monomoy Road being used as a short-term rental does not violate the zoning code,” Murphy said. “It’s still a residential use, which is why I declined taking enforcement action.”
Neighbors of the property in Monomoy, however, were incredulous with that decision.
“It’s not an owner-occupied home,” said Hale Everets, of 46 Monomoy Road. “It seems clear this is a for-profit business being run out of the home. To say people sleep and eat there is obfuscating the true use of the home.”
Everets called on Murphy to further explain his reasoning.
“It’s still a residential use” Murphy responded. “The activity is no different than anyone else occupying the home, sleeping, eating and using the home. I don't believe it’s a commercial use.”
The zoning challenge was initiated by Monomoy homeowners Jeff McDermott, Matthew Westfall, Stephen Kitchum, Rob and Deborah Landreth, and Mark Wilmot, who requested an enforcement action against 32 Monomoy Road. Their attorney, Nina Pickering-Cook, of Anderson Kreiger, argued that The Copley Group was operating 32 Monomoy Road strictly as a short-term rental, and that it's "use as a commercial property is prohibited" in the LUG-1 zoning district.
While Westfall acknowledged that he rents his own property during the summer months on a short-term basis, he differentiated his rental activity from how the Copley Group utilizes 32 Monomoy Road. Westfall said his family uses the property in the shoulder season, while 32 Monomoy Road is never owner-occupied. Westfall said his family is careful and thoughtful about who is allowed to rent their house and when, while the Copley Group has rented to groups throwing a bachelor party.
“Our guests rent multiple weeks at a time,” Westfall said. “As this is our primary home and we care deeply about our community, we’re hands-on with our rental process. The Copley Group’s full-time short-term renting is fundamentally different.”
Other Monomoy residents said their appeal was unique, because of the nature of The Copley Group’s use of the property strictly as a commercial short-term rental.
“You’ve never considered a property that is incontestably used solely for short-term rental purposes,” said Franci Neely. “To argue that is residential turns common sense on its head. To use that rationale, one could build a hotel there and claim it’s residential. That is false.”
Neely said it was unfair to both residents and the police to put the burden on them to monitor and object to the negative impacts created by The Copley Group’s short-term rental.
“It’s very inequitable to place a burden on the neighborhood to become vigilantes,” Neely said. “If you complain you're labeled as a nag or sourpuss. If you don’t complain, Copley’s lawyers say ‘no harm, no foul.’ I hope we don’t resort to just having the police having to monitor these unfortunate situations...Just because you have Copley in Boston with Boston lawyers, don’t let them override the interests of the Monomoy residential neighborhood.”
Ketchum, one of the Monomoy residents who brought the appeal, described how his mother’s 88th birthday party was disrupted by a party of 25 people on the deck of The Copley Group’s rental.
“It was incredibly disruptive and marred what was otherwise a wonderful and meaningful celebration,” Ketchum said. “It’s an unyielding issue for me and the rest of the neighbors. It’s unacceptable.”
Attorney John Hofmann, who represented The Copley Group during the hearing, cited Nantucket’s “longstanding tradition and history of short-term rentals by people who own property in Nantucket” in asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to reject the appeal.
“It does not violate the bylaws,” Hofmann said. “It’s a private residential use. By definition, it’s not commercial...Investment properties like this have a long-standing history, for good reasons, for the tourism industry.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, there was essentially no debate among the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals about their course of action.
“We’ve had this type of appeal before us before, and we’ve been consistent in our decision making,” said ZBA chair Susan McCarthy. Watch the full hearing below:
It’s unclear where the case goes from here, however, a similar recent appeal involving a short-term rental dispute on West Dover Street, is currently pending before the Massachusetts Land Court.
These neighbor-versus-neighbor disputes were among the reasons why the Planning Board and Planning & Land Use Services department had sought voter approval last May for Article 42, a zoning bylaw amendment that would have codified short-term rentals and allowed them by right in all zoning districts. But that effort was punted, along with ACK Now's bid to further restrict short-term rentals owned by non-residents, to the new Short-Term Rental Work Group that continues to meet, but has yet to formulate a warrant article for Town Meeting’s consideration.
The lawsuits, requests for zoning enforcement, and the competing Town Meeting proposals regarding short-term rentals all came in the aftermath of a 2021 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision involving short term rentals known as the Lynnfield case, or the Styller case.
The case reached the SJC after Alexander Styller, the owner of a home in Lynnfield, Mass., appealed a decision by the local building inspector that prohibited him from offering short term rentals of his home based on the fact it was located in a residential zoning district. After losing at the local Zoning Board and the Land Court, Styller appealed to the SJC, which also ruled to uphold the building commissioner’s decision. The decision stated: “short-term rental use of a one family home is inconsistent with the zoning purpose of the single-residence zoning district in which it is situated, i.e., to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood.” There is disagreement on how the case might translate to Nantucket, or if it applies at all.