STR Working Group Presents Tentative Plan For Stricter STR Regulations To Planning Board

JohnCarl McGrady •

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The Short-Term Rental Working Group presented their tentative plan for stricter STR regulations to the Planning Board Thursday, including a proposal to limit property owners to a single STR each—down from two as of a mid-May draft reported on here—and ban corporate ownership.

The proposed regulations are a work in progress and do not represent the consensus of the Working Group, which was immediately apparent during the meeting as several Working Group members spoke up to criticize aspects of the proposal.

Kathy Baird, Co-Founder and President of Nantucket Together, and Peter Kahn, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee of Non-Voting Taxpayers, were among the Working Group members who raised concerns.

Baird worried that limiting operators to a single STR could harm local homeowners who rely on a second STR to help pay their mortgage.

“That could be problematic for year-round folks,” she said, suggesting that the Working Group split the more controversial provisions from the main proposal so as not to imperil the areas where a broad consensus has been reached.

Dave Iverson, the Planning Board Vice-Chair and a member of the Working Group said that around 75% of operators already only own one STR, and if the regulations allowed for two STRs per operator, they would impact only a tiny fraction of units on the market.

“If we’ve heard anything from the public, it’s that we don’t want more STRs, and we want to manage the ones we have,” he said.

To emerge from the Working Group, proposals require the support of seven of the nine members, so opposition from just three members could sink the entire agenda. With scant months before November’s Special Town Meeting, where voters are supposed to decide on proposals from the Working Group, time is running out to reach a consensus. The Working Group has already missed one deadline, spurring Select Board member Malcolm MacNab to say the group should have been disbanded, which makes the upcoming Special Town Meeting all the more important for the Working Group’s credibility.

The proposed regulations would also block STRs in units that are deed restricted for affordable or attainable housing, limit STRs to a maximum of four weeks in apartments and multi-family homes and cap all STRs at a maximum of nine residency changes per summer.

Under the proposed regulations, STRs would be legalized by right in all zoning districts and officially defined in accordance with existing Board of Health bylaws. All STRs currently in existence that don’t conform to the new regulations would be allowed to continue operation until ownership of the unit is transferred through a means other than inheritance or the existing registration is not renewed, a process commonly referred to as “grandfathering”. Grandfathered units would still be subject to the limit of nine residence changes per year.

Julia Lindner, Executive Director of the political action group ACK•Now and a member of the Working Group, argued that more of the regulations should be codified as a zoning bylaw, as opposed to a general bylaw. As it stands, only the definition of STRs and their legalization by right in all districts would be a zoning bylaw, while the rest of the proposed regulations would be a general bylaw. For either bylaw to be applicable, both would have to pass.

Zoning bylaws are less flexible than general bylaws, requiring a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting to be altered while general bylaws can be altered by a simple majority. Zoning bylaws are subject to a strict application of grandfathering, meaning if the Working Group chose to use zoning bylaws, none of the regulations could apply to existing STRs, including the limit on changes in residence.

“The thought was it would be better to do a targeted approach through the general bylaw where you don’t have to worry about the grandfathering unless you tailor it specifically to your needs,” Town Counsel John Giorgio said.

The Working Group is also considering a separate provision, not tied to the other regulations, that would institute a three percent Community Impact Fee on non-primary residence STRs if the owner operates two or more STRs, at least 35% of the profit of which would be dedicated to affordable housing and local infrastructure projects. This would require a simple majority of voters at Town Meeting. The Working Group also suggested upping the portion of the proceeds dedicated to affordable housing and local infrastructure to 100%, which would require a two-thirds vote.

The Planning Board is hoping to organize a joint meeting with the Board of Health to discuss enforcement of the Working Group’s recommendations, as some of that work would fall under the Board of Health’s purview. Health Director Roberto Santamaria suggested that some elements might raise questions within the Board of Health and agreed that a joint meeting would be a good idea.

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