Town Counsel And Short-Term Rental Work Group Got It Wrong

Franci Neely •

To the editor: I am a seasonal resident of Nantucket and have owned property in Monomoy for about 25 years. I love this island. I do not rent my property and do not make money from rentals. I wholeheartedly support the tradition of Nantucketers who rent their properties as an accessory usage. I am offended by the tactic of organizations like Nantucket Together who frighten these Nantucketers by claiming that proper regulation of STRs is aimed at harming them.

At the Select Board meeting on July 19, I listened to a number of STRWG members who recently resigned. They collectively suggested that, because they spent many hours on this project, the Select Board should therefore approve their proposal. The STR issue confronting Nantucket is more important than the feelings of individuals, no matter how hard they work. The Select Board’s questioning the wisdom of their proposal is not disrespectful: It is their job.

The membership of the STRWG was not entirely objective. It included people with conflicts of interest, people who themselves or through their close family members make money from STRs. Since the beginning of this process, people have asked that these financial interests be plainly disclosed. That has never been done. Why should the town adopt the views of people who financially benefit from the STRWG proposal and yet fail to disclose these conflicts of interest?

From the time the STRWG was formed, the thumb of the real estate interests has been on the scale. Former planning director Andrew Vorce (backed by Town Counsel) strongly advocated in favor of the very type of bylaw regulation now proposed by the STRWG. Mr. Vorce expressed that view to me two years ago. Town Counsel repeated that mantra throughout the STRWG meeting process. It’s often difficult for lay people to disagree with a strongly opinionated lawyer. Town Counsel’s views unduly influenced the process.

I am not impressed with Town Counsel's rationale for refusing to use zoning to address STRs. (Like him, I’m a lawyer.). He acknowledges it’s legal to do so. Town Counsel claims that zoning "does not regulate nimbly" and would invite litigation. That is incorrect. Good lawyering could define "incidental" or "accessory." Why didn't the STRWG make any effort to do so? Why didn't Town counsel?

I am downright amazed that Town Counsel continues to offer legal cover to the “reasoning” of the building commissioner and Zoning Board of Appeals in the lawsuit righteously brought by abutters to 32 Monomoy. The Copley Group owns and operates 32 Monomoy solely for short-term rental purposes and brazenly does so in an area zoned exclusively for residential purposes. Turning a blind eye to this blatant violation of applicable zoning, the building commissioner actually stated that, because people sleep there, it was therefore a residence. By this standard, the Four Seasons could operate a hotel business with impunity right in the midst of a residential-only neighborhood. I would not rely on the opinion of a lawyer willing to sanction this nakedly pro-STR view.

Town Counsel and pro-STR interests like Nantucket Together continue to claim the bylaw instead of the zoning approach is necessary to halt litigation. No, it will not. The proposed regulations will foment litigation. They are porous and will be gamed by people who are determined to undermine the integrity of neighborhoods by operating commercial establishments (properties used mainly or exclusively for STRs). Moreover, the STRWG proposal ignores the complexities of and enormous expense that would be incurred in enforcement of the proposed regulations.

Recently, I had coffee with the impressive president of Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Amy Lee. She told me that 20 employees of the hospital had in the recent past lost long-term rental housing because the owners converted to short-term rentals. Those are much more lucrative for property owners. This conversion of long-term to short-term reduces the availability of much-needed housing for year-round residents. Anyone who suggests there is no link between shortages of affordable and year-round housing on the one hand and the proliferation of short-term rentals on the other is being disingenuous. Common sense tells one otherwise.

The Town should not decide this issue based on the thin-skinned responses of people who clamored to be part of the STRWG. Some did so to protect their own or family members' financial interests, and this should have been disclosed long ago.

The STRWG proposal is not the only course to take. It’s not even the best course to take. There IS another way: Regulate STRs by permitting them as accessory uses, not as primary uses. Respect the sanctity and integrity of neighborhoods.

I respect the Select Board members who stand their ground on this issue and refuse to be cowed by former STRWG members. We can thank those people for their service and still wish they had been candid about their conflicts of interest and preconceptions and had adopted a simpler, fairer approach.


Franci Neely

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