Select Board – Finally – Weighs In On Short-Term Rental Proposals

The three proposals involving short-term rentals that Nantucket voters will consider at Town Meeting in May have been among the most hotly-debated items on this year’s warrant. But up until this week, the island’s lead policy-making body had not weighed-in. That changed on Wednesday night when the Select Board finally reached a quorum and dove into a nearly two-hour discussion on the proposals. 

“These articles and this discussion is a defining moment for this community in a lot of different ways,” Select Board chair Jason Bridges said. “We have to find a way to control the growth of short-term rentals. I personally don’t think we need to eliminate them or stop them, but we have to control the growth. I think we’re all trying to figure out how to do that with these two articles and the citizen warrant article from Mr. (Tobias) Glidden.”

Bridges was referencing Article 42, a zoning bylaw amendment put forward by the Planning Board that would codify short-term rentals and allow them by right in all zoning districts. Article 39 is a separate general bylaw amendment that would regulate short-term rentals with requirements for local registration, permitting, inspection, and certain fees. It would also 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. 

The citizen petition put forward by the political action group ACK Now’s executive chairman Tobias Glidden, Article 43, would allow short-term rentals by right as an accessory use for those whose primary residence is on Nantucket. For non-residents and anyone renting a second home, a special permit would be required to use their property as a short-term rental as long as the Zoning Board of Appeals determined it was an accessory use.

It’s been portrayed as a noise issue and certainly there are noise issues, but I think the bigger issue for the community is do we have a community? Select Board member Matt Fee asked. “How much of a community do you have if it’s all estates and rental homes? That’s what worries me.”

Select Board member Kristie Ferrantella emphasized that the debate was missing important data points, for instance, how many year-round rentals had been converted to short-term rentals on the island? 

“I think these articles are really going to make or break what our housing is going to look like over the next few years,” Ferrantella said. “I thought last year, Article 90 started the conversations around short-term rentals and it really focused on restricting them. But the community came out at Town Meeting saying we don’t want to restrict them full-on. A lot of the conversion at the Finance Committee and the Planning Board Board and Select Board, we all said we want data around how short-term rentals affect our community and housing. There are a lot of questions about what is the problem of short term rentals. And I feel that still hasn’t been addressed.”

Up until Wednesday, the Select Board had been unable to discuss the warrant articles publicly due to the Massachusetts open meeting law. Select Board members Dawn Hill Holdgate and Melissa Murphy have both been forced to recuse themselves from the debate because they derive some portion of their income from short-term rentals. Meanwhile, Select Board member Kristie Ferrantella had been absent following the recent birth of her son for more than a month. That had left Fee and Bridges as the only Select Board members left, but they did not constitute a quorum of the board.

The three board members who did participate in Wednesday’s discussion opted not to issue a recommendation on any of the articles, but could still do so before Town Meeting arrives. 

Several residents spoke out on both sides of the short-term rental debate and the Planning Board’s zoning proposal. 

“Maybe we can come up with some data that can indicate, really, what’s going on,” said Great Point Properties principal Edward Sanford. “The narrative right now – I’ll say it flat out – has been generated by ACK Now and that narrative is that short-term rentals are destroying the year round housing stock, and I don’t personally believe it…This is not a problem that’s been generated by Airbnb and VRBO, it’s been generated by the tremendous popularity of this island.

Other island residents, including Rick Atherton and Howard Dickler, called for a delay in consideration of the warrant articles to allow for further discussion.

More from Jason Graziadei

Nine Rescued After Boat Hits Jetty in Nantucket Harbor

Nine people were rescued by the Coast Guard in Nantucket Harbor late...
Read More