To the editor:
Although I am always pigeonholed as a real estate broker, that simple characterization belies the 50 plus years I have lived here and my long-term involvement in island planning efforts (going back to the early 1980s), conservation efforts, local charitable work, as a Zoning Board of Appeals member as well as my employment as a carpenter, rental cottage manager, and boat builder. I am quite proud when I come around Brant Point on the ferry, look toward the Coast Guard Station and see 15 sailboats that my company built on Nantucket, now nearly 40 years old, sitting at their moorings.
Nantucket has been a part of my mother's and father's family since the 1920s. I have two grandparents and both parents buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery and my son Henry and his three children are island born. He and his wife Amy are typical year-round island residents, dependent on the summer vacation rental economy. It is through this lens that I write this letter.
I have watched all the Short-Term Rental Workgroup meetings on Zoom. The public Zoom meetings do not provide any opportunity for back and forth debate as comment time for the public is very limited and we members of the public do not know who is registered to watch and comment. It would be helpful for the general public to have the opportunity to gather and debate these issues with the Workgroup members in person. The Annual Town Meeting (ATM) is not a good place for this type of dialogue. This debate may even lead to a more successful ATM. Will the workgroup allow this? I hope so.
Here are my thoughts on the Objectives (in bold) posted at the October 25 meeting:
- Prevent or reverse the loss of available year-round housing due to STRs
I would have hoped that the primary goal of this workgroup was to gather the appropriate real estate sales and rental data from the Assessor, major rental platforms, the local broker community and any other source to fully understand what is transpiring in the Nantucket real estate market and how vacation rentals may or may not be impacting year-round housing. From that data the Workgroup could then delve into the regulatory process as needed. This objective implies STRs are poised to have or are already having a negative impact by using the words “prevent or reverse.” The die seems to be cast.
- Reduce or prevent increase in year-round rental and purchase costs
Again, this objective implies, by using the words "Reduce or prevent", that STRs are already impacting year-round rental rates and housing values. Are they the sole reason it is so expensive to live here? Will the Workgroup consider other possibilities, such as our hugely successful land conservation efforts and the island's overwhelming popularity as a result? Or is the bias just to assume STRs are the sole driver in year-round housing rental rates and sale prices?
- Reduce or prevent increase in traffic, congestion, overcrowding, and strains on civic and environmental infrastructure
Are vacation renters a more intense use than seasonal homeowners? Probably, as the shorter the stay, the more intense the activities. But, if STRs are greatly reduced, will houses that can no longer rent simply sit empty? That seems very far-fetched. Dwellings will not sit empty in July and August and seasonal residents, owners or renters, will enjoy the island. Maybe we would see a proliferation of 32-day leases. Those leases are beyond regulatory reach and would produce no rental tax revenue. We have a lot of traffic for 3 months a year because there are 11,000 (my estimate) dwellings on island. Reducing STRs will not reduce traffic or any of these other problems. If the workgroup agrees that STRs are the main cause of all of this, then that indicates another preordained bias to greatly restrict STRs.
- Avoid noise, nuisance, and other "bad neighbor" behaviors
Certainly, this is not the sole provenance of STRs. There are plenty of "bad neighbor” behaviors, year-round or seasonal. How will this group define these bad behaviors and will they address these bad behaviors as an STR issue solely? If you are going down this path, a review of current town ordinances is warranted and “bad neighbor” regulations must apply to all residents.
- Protect residents' (year-round and part-time) interests/needs for rental income and flexibility
I am in full agreement here but can a zoning article discriminate between a year-round resident and a seasonal, non-resident? Article 90 at the 2020 ATM and Article 43 at the 2021 ATM tried that approach, cynically restrict voters less than non-voters. Besides the constitutional issues, trying to segregate year-round and non-resident non-voting owners legislatively sends a horrible message to the 80% of homeowners who are non-residents and cannot vote.
- Support and ensure the benefits of the tourism economy for the people of Nantucket
STRs are a significant foundation of the Nantucket economy. Short-term renters often become homeowners and become emotionally connected to the island. Restricting STRs will impact the island economy and may weed out those owners who must rent to help defray the costs of owning an island home. It could well stop people from coming to the island if the restriction causes another increase in rental rates (reducing the supply in the face of great demand). Many of these owners (I can name many) are longtime summer residents and may have to sell if rentals are restricted. This is just another step making Nantucket accessible only to the wealthy who do not need to rent.
- Preserve tax and fee income for the municipal budget and other Nantucket priorities
If STRs are greatly restricted, the State rental tax revenue coming to Nantucket will be diminished. The Board of Health fee collected under the new STR regulation simply covers their operating costs to institute those new regulations. Rental tax revenue is funding Town services, so the reduction of that revenue will need to be made up with higher property taxes for all homeowners or reduced services.
I am sadly pessimistic about this workgroup as most of these objectives seem to concur with ACKNow’s narratives. If each member was asked if they believed that STRs are making year-round rentals and housing prices more expensive and degrading Nantucket's quality of life, I believe a majority would say yes, despite having no data currently to make those determinations (how do you quantify quality of life and segregate the STR impacts in any event?).
The STR Workgroup members should not be looking for data to confirm their current thinking. They should impartial and demand that Granicus gather data from all sources to inform them what the real STR issues might be and how those issues should be addressed. As of today Granicus has not voluntarily reached out to any local real estate offices for rental data. The only contact they have had is because Penny Dey, President of NAREB, initiated a phone call to Geoffrey Goodman, the Granicus representative, yesterday.
Why is this? Nantucket has had a robust locally driven rental industry long before national online platforms surfaced, and these local island businesses have a wealth of historic rental data. Shouldn’t Granicus be engaging local real estate companies for rental data to get a true picture of island vacation rentals? If they do not reach out to local real estate offices, their data will be woefully incomplete.
The quandary the Workgroup faces is a rush to 2023 ATM may mean that all important data cannot be properly collected, aggregated and presented to the Workgroup for an effective discussion of how to best regulate STRs. Hanging over the effort is a lawsuit directed and funded and by ACKNow members (correct me if I am wrong). Cathy Ward is suing Linda and Peter Grape, her neighbor. The Grapes are the quintessential summer residents, owning one island home and having been connected to the island since their honeymoon here 40 years ago. The suit is having a summary hearing late in November, and possibly a trial this coming spring. If the suit succeeds then the efforts of the Workgroup could be rendered meaningless as short-term rentals could be declared illegal in all residential zones.
But rushing to town meeting with incomplete data is a huge mistake. If ACK Now really cared and believed in the democratic process to deal with the short term vacation rental issues, they would postpone or withdraw this cynical lawsuit. But they do not care and they won’t withdraw it and that leaves the distinct possibility that Peter McAusland, Julia Linder and the rest of the ACKNow members will determine Nantucket’s economic future, not this Workgroup or the island residents who will be severely impacted as a result. Is that a positive step forward for this island community. Obviously not.
Edward J. Sanford