To the Editor,
I am the sponsor of an article for the 2023 Town Meeting supported by a group of residents to address the fact that short-term rentals (STRs) are not currently listed as a permitted use in Nantucket's zoning bylaw. Our local zoning is explicit: any use not listed is not allowed. We can – and should – solve this problem immediately because regardless of differing views, it is clear that no one wants to see our tradition of vacation rentals go away.
Since the large majority of residents agree we should protect the tradition of renting our homes to visitors in some way, we can begin with a very simple and straightforward step of amending our zoning bylaw to clarify that STRs are allowed in residential neighborhoods as long as the short-term rental use is secondary – or in zoning language, "accessory" – to the primary residential use of the property. If you use your year-round or seasonal home as a residence more than as an STR, your ability to short-term rent will be protected.
This article (which hasn’t been assigned a number yet) offers every homeowner flexibility to find a way to continue to STR but stops short of legalizing strictly commercial STR businesses in our residential districts.
Most islanders can agree that Nantucket residents should be able to rent out their own property as an STR now and/or in the future, even in residential areas. It's nearly impossible for year-round residents to find even a modest home to buy or rent given the rate that home prices have surged. Surging home prices and rents are forcing many to move off-island, which is making it harder for our year-round economy to function. The ability to rent out a room or secondary dwelling for long-term or short-term stays is one way to make living and working on the island a little easier.
However, many of today's STRs are different from the low-key vacation rentals from twenty years ago. Off-island investors are turning Nantucket into an overcrowded, island-wide tourist zone with too many unregulated STRs in our neighborhoods. This recent trend is dramatically changing life on the island and threatening its sustainability. The huge profits these investors reap are not re-invested here but are earned at our community's expense.
We need limited, reasonable restrictions on STRs, especially in residential areas in order to manage and sustain economic growth through retaining our labor force and to preserve the character of our community.
I truly believe this is one of the most important and urgent decisions the island can make to protect itself and its future. I don't think it's wise to wait for the Town's STR workgroup. This group doesn't represent the year-round community and too many members stand to gain financially if commercial STRs grow.
Like many of you, I've had the good fortune to call Nantucket my home both as a seasonal and year-round resident for my entire life. Together, we must make thoughtful decisions to preserve this unique and special island for generations to come.
I hope that everyone will give this STR zoning article I helped to bring along with others a good look.
- Emmy Kilvert