The Select Board opted to utilize two law firms, Barrett Planning Group (BPG) and Consensus Building Institute (CBI), to facilitate the Town’s short-term rental workgroup following an announcement at Wednesday's meeting. Feeling that the two firms had complementary strengths, the Board decided to hire both of the applicants who made a bid to facilitate the workgroup, with the two firms set to work on different portions of the process.
Established by Town Meeting, the workgroup will make recommendations on the future of short-term rentals on Nantucket, including the competing short-term rental articles proposed at the last Town meeting by the Planning Board and political advocacy group ACK•Now.
The workgroup will have representatives from various local stakeholder groups, including the Planning Board and ACK•Now. The workgroup will also include three at-large members, and legal counsel has cleared island residents with vested interests in short-term rentals to participate and apply for those seats.
Because of the highly contentious nature of the issue, the Select Board has opted to hire CBI, an international firm specializing in consensus building, to facilitate the first stages of the process. “Facilitation on contentious community issues is (their) wheelhouse. It is the primary focus of (their) work,” Select Board member Brooke Mohr said.
Headed by Director and lead facilitator Stacie Smith, CBI has worked with communities in Massachusetts to build consensus on divisive issues such as climate action and historic preservation—experience that will be essential in dealing with the short-term rental workgroup, as controversy has already begun to surface.
ACK•Now has raised concerns with the workgroup’s composition, although members have not been chosen, arguing that the groups with guaranteed membership skew in favor of short-term rentals.
“A major concern is that the makeup of the workgroup includes mainly proponents of Article 42, which would have codified unlimited, unrestricted (short-term rentals) anywhere on the Island,” ACK•Now Executive Director Julia Linder wrote in an email to supporters.
Penny Dey, a perennial foil of Linder’s and the president of the Nantucket Association of Real Estate Brokers (NARAB), has also spoken out against the composition. NARAB was slated to receive a non-voting seat on the board, but according to Dey, they no longer will—and the state ethics commission says anyone who works in the real estate industry should be deemed to have a conflict of interest and not allowed to receive one of the at-large seats.
“It’s fairly disappointing to me that we, who are on the front lines of the industry, will not be able to participate in what should be a balanced discussion,” she said.
The workgroup’s membership will be decided by a committee comprised of Select Board members Jason Bridge, Matt Fee and Brooke Mohr, as well as Planning Board vice-chair David Iverson and Finance Committee chair Denise Kronau.
The workgroup’s guiding framework says that to go before the Select Board, any proposal would need the support of seven of the workgroup’s nine members. Once they reach this stage, the Select Board plans to hire BPG, which has extensive experience with zoning and bylaws.