"YES" Vote On Articles 59 & 60 Would End ACKNow's Continued Attack On Summer Rentals

Edward Sanford •

To the editor: As has been well reported, Cathy Ward, in September 2021, sent a letter to the Nantucket Building Commissioner asking him to order her neighbors, Peter and Linda Grape, to stop renting their primary dwelling on West Dover Street on a short-term basis (rentals of less than 32 days). She claimed they were engaging in an illegal commercial use. The Commissioner declined Ms. Ward’s request and she appealed that decision to the Nantucket Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA upheld the Building Commissioner’s decision.

Ms. Ward, assisted by ACKNow’s financial support, appealed that ZBA decision to the Massachusetts Land Court. In her lawsuit, she asked for the Court to overturn the ZBA decision and further to determine that the Nantucket Zoning Bylaw prohibits short term rentals, calling them an “illegal commercial use” in the Residential Old Historic (ROH) district.

On March 14, 2024 Land Court Judge Michael Vhay’s rendered a decision in the case. The Judge concluded that (in direct quotes):

The Zoning Bylaw doesn’t expressly authorize short term rental as a principal use of “primary dwellings” in the Town ROH district.

The Zoning Bylaw may allow, however, rentals of primary dwellings as an “accessory use” of such dwellings.

Since the ZBA didn’t consider in connection with the Ward’s appeal whether the Grapes lawfully were renting their Main House as an accessory use, the Court will vacate the ZBA Decision and return the case to the ZBA for further proceedings.

Nowhere in the Judge’s decision did he agree with Ms. Ward’s (ACKNow’s) contention that the Grape’s short-term rentals were an illegal “commercial use” in the ROH district. In fact, as noted above, he allowed that short term rentals are an allowable residential use in the ROH district.

Judge Vhay ordered the ZBA to render a new decision by the end of April. They must define what a primary residential use consist of: to wit, define who may occupy the residence and the length of that residency. Once that is established, the accessory use definition can follow. But, if their ensuing decision does not satisfy Cathy Ward and ACKNow, they will appeal that decision back to Judge Vhay and the Judge will once again rule on the ZBA decision. And on it goes, casting doubt and uncertainty for EVERY homeowner who wants to rent their house to summer vacationers.

Annual Town Meeting could end ACKNow’s continued attack on the tradition of summer vacation rentals by enacting a new zoning bylaw expressly permitting the island custom of short-term rentals and then regulating them as Town Meeting sees fit.

Island residents have an opportunity to do just that by voting to approve Article 59 and 60 at the May 7 Annual Town Meeting. Article 59 expressly permits vacation rentals as has been the custom on Nantucket for the last 52 years that Nantucket has had its own zoning bylaw. From there, Town Meeting voters can regulate short term rentals by approving Article 60. It is time to end ACKNow’s million-dollar assault of island homeowner property rights. Attend Town Meeting May 7 and vote to approve Article 59 and 60.


Edward Sanford

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