Planning Board Recommends Codifying Short-Term Rentals In All Districts

Short-term rentals will once again take centerstage at Nantucket’s Annual Town Meeting in 2022, as the Planning Board voted Monday to move forward with a zoning bylaw amendment that would codify short-term rentals and allow them by right in all zoning districts. 

Planning Director Andrew Vorce explained during Monday afternoon’s meeting that the zoning amendment would simply  formally permit what is already happening on the island now, with more than 2,000 short-term rentals operating on Nantucket that have registered with the state.

“Short term rentals have been in place here for decades, if not at least a century,” Vorce said. “We’re moving to codify what has always been happening.”

It may sound inconsequential, but the distinction is important following a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial decision last year – known as the “Styller” or “Lynnfield” case – which some have interpreted as prohibiting short-term rentals in residential zoning districts, as well as other regulatory and legal challenges that have pitted neighbor versus neighbor on the island. 

A separate general bylaw amendment put forward by the Select Board that would regulate short-term rentals with requirements for local registration, permitting, inspection, and certain fees, is also headed to Town Meeting. Town counsel John Giorgio emphasized that the proposal would set up a structure to put some of the “nuisance” issues associated with short-term rentals – for example: noise and parking – in the purview of the Board of Health. 

Planning Board member Fritz McClure cast the only vote against including the zoning bylaw amendment on the Town Meeting warrant. He raised concerns that codifying short-term rentals in that way would essentially “grandfather” their use and hamstring the town’s ability to go back and restrict them in some way in the future if voters chose to do so. 

Vorce also addressed the concern that the zoning bylaw amendment could lead to litigation. 

“We are being litigated now,” Vorce said. “We’ve had one suit, and the ZBA has decided another issue in favor of the building commissioner’s interpretation. Those disputes, neighbor versus neighbor, take up a lot of time, a lot of ZBA and town counsel time, and are just as problematic as speculating about lawsuits in the future. We have lawsuits and litigation on us now. By addressing this, we are addressing the underlying causes for some of that.”

The zoning bylaw amendment would also allow the town to prohibit short-term rentals in apartments and workforce rental housing. It will be the subject of future public hearings to allow for public input and questions, and the Select Board will have the final say in whether it appears on the Town Meeting warrant or not. 

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