Let’s Take A Long Look Back At The Issue Of Short Term Rentals On Nantucket

Peter McCausland •

To the editor: In March, the town lost the Ward v. Grapes case when the Land Court ruled that under Nantucket’s zoning bylaw, short-term rentals (STRs) cannot be the principal (i.e, majority or exclusive) use of a lot in a residential zoning district. After three long years of litigation, the town decided not to appeal because it would lose.

Then, in early May, Town Meeting defeated Article 59, the fourth attempt in as many years to allow STRs as a principal use in residential districts. Article 59 needed 67 percent of the vote to pass and only got 48%, losing by almost 300 votes, a huge margin for a Nantucket Town Meeting.

Now, the Zoning Board of Appeals will meet on June 3 to rule on whether the Grapes’ use of their primary dwelling is a lawful accessory use. Given the Judge’s ruling, unless the ZBA wants to have another remand, the ZBA can’t rule that the Grapes’ use is accessory because it is bound by the Land Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Land Court found that the Grapes used the house for STR more than twice the number of days they occupied it themselves. Such use cannot, by law, be deemed accessory. The ZBA’s decision in the Grape case could be instructive on what the ZBA believes could be the line for lawful STRs as an accessory use under the current bylaw.

And, just when we thought it was over, the Select Board has called another Special Town Meeting for September 17, to discuss STR articles. After four consecutive defeats by Nantucket voters, one might think that the articles under consideration for the Special Town Meeting would be versions of the right to rent on an accessory use basis. But, that does not appear to be the case. All of the articles, except the one submitted by Put Nantucket Neighborhoods First (“PNNF”), allow STR as the principal use of a lot. And many of the same people who have been advocating for STR businesses in neighborhoods are behind what amounts to a fifth attempt to gut residential zoning.

The Land Court and the voters have spoken, and they want an honest accessory use article, one which preserves the right of homeowners to rent while shutting down STR businesses in Nantucket neighborhoods. The commercial interests behind the attempt to infiltrate residential neighborhoods with STRs as a principal use control town boards and committees and won’t accept “NO” for an answer. They do that at their peril. Now, they want a 5th vote to gut residential zoning.

In furtherance of their campaign, they have begun to argue that the economy is already slowing from the uncertainty created by people who think commercial STRs are bad for Nantucket.

But, if there is a slowing, it is most likely because Nantucket has become overpriced and overcrowded. Visitors are tired of the gridlock that comes with expense and simply looking for more accessible and less costly destinations. Covid is behind us and the factors that drove up rents during that period no longer exist; it is now safe to travel the world once again.

Rather than reset our economic expectations to more realistic levels and accept the lessons of economic cycles, the stakeholders in Nantucket’s STR industry appear willing to ignore the risk and unavoidable outcome of “build, baby, build” to keep up their drive to monetize Nantucket’s residential neighborhoods, “come hell or high water." They have absolutely no regard, whatsoever, for the people who live in them. Meanwhile, in a high-interest environment where supply of STRs is beginning to exceed demand, reckless investment is a risk that only the inexperienced would make. History does repeat itself.

Peter McCausland

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current Opinion