Mr. President, What Options Does ACK Now Want, Specifically?

Edward Sanford •

To the editor: Carl Jelleme, President of ACKNow and the owner of the largest heavy construction company on the island, recently opined in the Nantucket Current that the Short Term Rental Work Group (STRWG) is not doing enough to restrict short-term rentals, in similar fashion to Emily Kilvert’s letter in the May 25th Inquirer & Mirror. His inflammatory attack denigrates the draft proposals of the STRWG saying, “...the centerpiece of the proposal is plain and simple: to gut our residential zoning.”.

He goes further to make unfounded allegations that the Work Group is beholden to “real estate lobbies and commercial STR interests”. He demands that the Work Group, Select Board, Planning Board, and Finance Committee “....should disclose their financial interests tied to STRs”.

Mr. Jelleme starts his onslaught by making a significant misstatement about a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling. He writes:

“After the highest court in the Commonwealth said that STRs are commercial and inconsistent with residential zoning, the Planning Board brought Article 42 to the 2022 Town Meeting to "fix" our zoning with across-the-board legalization of STRs island-wide. Voters were ready to reject it when the Planning Board asked voters to send both STR zoning articles on the warrant to a study committee.”

His statement that the Supreme Judicial Court (“the highest court in the Commonwealth”) ruled “....that STRs are commercial and inconsistent with residential zoning...” is grossly inaccurate, either out of total ignorance of the ruling in question or in a deliberate attempt to distort the facts and mislead the reader. The SJC upheld a Land Court decision, favoring the Town of Lynnfield. In summation, they ruled that in Lynnfield,

“For the above reasons, we conclude that the plaintiff's use of the property for short-term rentals was not a permissible use under the town's zoning bylaw, as it existed prior to its amendment in 2016.19

At the end of that sentence is footnote 19. The footnote reads:

“We hasten to add, however, that a different result may obtain in other circumstances, depending upon, for example, the specifics of the zoning bylaw of the city or town, including what types of additional uses are permitted (if any), as well as what is considered a customary accessory use in a particular community.”

With this Footnote, the SJC makes it absolutely clear that their decision was rendered ONLY in the context of the Town of Lynnfield’s zoning bylaw. So why do Mr. Jelleme and ACKNow keep telling island citizens the SJC’s decision applies to all of Massachusetts? Is it deliberate disinformation designed to create false narratives about the legality of short-term rentals on Nantucket? It seems so.

Mr. Jelleme then makes an unsubstantiated statement about the Planning Board’s submission of Article 42 in the 2022 Town Warrant. I cannot state with assurance why the Planning Board brought Article 42 to the 2022 Annual Town Meeting(ATM). I will speculate that it was because, in 2021, ACKNow began suing property owners who rented short-term, claiming these rentals constituted an illegal commercial use in a residential district. In the face of ACKNow’s legal assault on Nantucket’s centuries-old custom of owners renting their houses to summer vacationers, I will assume the Planning Board wanted to explicitly codify this Nantucket tradition in the zoning by-laws of the Town of Nantucket. This would have ended the lawsuits and the enormous expense the Town faces in defending its position that short-term rentals are a legal use. It would also defend the island economy.

By the 2022 ATM, the Town (both the Building Commissioner and the Zoning Board of Appeals) had ruled in two of the lawsuits that short-term rentals are legal in Nantucket residential districts. They have since ruled the same twice more in two other ACK Now-supported suits. Until a court (ACKNow is currently involved in three active lawsuits) or Annual Town Meeting decides otherwise, renting short-term is legal on Nantucket.

Continuing, Mr. Jelleme denigrates the Select Board, and by inference, Denice Kronau, the Finance Committee Chairperson, who oversaw the STRWG committee selection process. He writes:

“...the Select Board went out of its way to get waivers from the State to appoint people with direct financial interests in STRs to the workgroup.”

What he conveniently leaves out is the fact that anyone connected to the island real estate business was specifically EXCLUDED from the committee. Yet Julia Lindner, ACKNow’s paid Executive Secretary, got a seat at the table. Another committee member, since resigned, even signed a letter distributed to the public prior to the 2023 ATM, stating that short-term vacation rentals were illegal. So, this allegation is patently false. In turn, he insults the following STRWG members (except Julia Lindner and himself, an alternate, of course):

  • At Large members Jim Sulzer, Kathy Baird, Karen Zagayko
  • Planning Board representative David Iverson
  • Finance Committee representative Peter N. Schaeffer
  • Peter Kahn from the Committee of Non-Voting Taxpayers
  • Thomas Dixon, the Affordable Housing advocate
  • And Meredith Lepore from the Board of Health, who has resigned.

    ACKNow, led by Mr. Jelleme, is seemly distressed that the Work Group will not fall in lockstep with their failed attempts to dramatically restrict short-term vacation rentals. They are deliberately trying to destroy the efforts of this group and slander its members and three governing Boards of the Town of Nantucket so any moderate proposals that come from the Work Group will be voted down this fall.

    He writes,

    “....what's being proposed is to protect the real estate lobbies and commercial STR interests at the expense of our community. It’s what the Planning Board has been pushing all along.”

Here are some of the STRWG proposals to date (05.22.23):

  • Eliminate corporate ownership of short-term rentals,
  • Ask properties held in LLCs and Trust to confirm that all the owners are natural persons,
  • Limiting ownership of short-term rental properties to one per person
  • Not allowing short-term rentals in deed-restricted affordable housing units,
  • Discussions of limiting the number of leases a property owner can execute in July and August, where 70 percent plus of vacations take place.

These are common sense proposals that should garner the support of the community. How do these proposals “..protect the real estate lobbies and commercial STR interests at the expense of our community.” as Mr. Jelleme states? Mr. Jelleme and his ACKNow associates could engage in productive dialogue and offer additional suggestions that might be acceptable to Town Meeting voters. But they do not. Instead, he threatens:

“Unless the proposal changes drastically, we won’t support it...”.

ACKNow has a terrible track record at ATMs of trying to regulate summer vacation rentals. Recognizing that they are out of touch with a majority of island voters, Mr. Jelleme is content to disparage, insult and disinform. My question to him and the ACKNow board is, how does this behavior lead to positive dialogue and potential productive results? It does not. All this misinformation and slander does is elevate discord and destroy any possibility of an honest productive dialogue. That plays right into ACKNow’s hand.

This could be ACK Now’s end game. If ACK Now succeeds in defeating the STRWG article(s) that comes to Special Town Meeting this fall, their lawsuits will continue winding their way through the court system. As their previous attempts at restricting summer vacation rentals have failed, lawsuits will be the best way for them to stop the vacation rental tradition on Nantucket. These lawsuits are the proverbial gun to the island community’s head. Do as ACK Now says or they will continue to suit homeowners to put an end to the vacationing on Nantucket. It is a harsh game.

I implore the reader to do your homework. Read the proposals the Work Group is drafting. Understand the rules. Study rental data that is being supplied by the Town and the Nantucket Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB). Engage with the Work Group. DO NOT buy into ACKNow’s angry, distorted, insulting rhetoric. Get involved and attend the Special Town meeting this fall. Make an informed decision.

If you do not, then a small cadre of litigious, well-heeled people may well succeed in ending the tradition of summer vacations on the island. How does that help the island community ACK Now professes, cynically, to have foremost in their minds? It is a financial disaster in the making, courtesy of ACKNow and its President.

Respectfully Submitted,

Edward J. Sanford

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