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Nantucket select board puts short-term rentals on town meeting warrant

Billy Wilson

The Nantucket select board approved the warrant for a special town meeting in September that could decide the fate of short-term rentals on the island

On the warrant is an article that would ban short term rentals in the local zoning code and create a new zoning use called a “Nantucket vacation rental.”

The Nantucket vacation rental would be allowed in most districts, but it would come with a number of regulations, Nantucket short-term rental subcommittee member Steven Cohen explained. For example, short-term rental operators would be limited to eight occupancy changes from July to August—unless they are new to renting on the island. New short-term rental operators would only be allowed three changes of occupancy in July and August for their first five years of renting out property. The article, as discussed by the select board, is posted on the town website.

Three different groups submitted citizen petition articles about short-term rentals for the upcoming special town meeting. The select board established a short-term rental subcommittee to try to reconcile the three articles into one. Two representatives from each of the three citizen groups sat on the subcommittee.

The subcommittee convened multiple times a week for several weeks to try to come up with an article they could all agree on. But in the end, the article it submitted to the select board in June was opposed by two subcommittee members, including Matthew Peel of the organization Put Nantucket Neighborhoods First.

Peel and his group oppose the article because they feel it does not regulate short-term rentals strictly enough. Short-term rentals should only be allowed as an accessory use to a primary dwelling, Peel said.

Peel was particularly concerned about short-term rental investor groups.

“They invest in four, five houses, buy up houses on Nantucket, and just STR them out,” he said. “So essentially they’re running motels, businesses out of the neighborhood.”

Peel said he has already seen the strained housing market impact island business.

“Nobody can find housing here,” he said. “I run FedEx on the island and I’ve had employees that have had to leave the island because they were living in a basement apartment and the owner said, ‘Instead of $3,000 a month, I can get $3,000 a week.’”

But Cohen sees short term rentals as beneficial to island business.

“Short-term rentals are essentially the key underpinning of Nantucket’s tourist economy,” he said.

Of the original three groups that submitted citizens petitions, Cohen’s group is “significantly concerned about how overly regulating or banning short-term rentals would impact the local economy,” he said.

The special town meeting is scheduled for September 17.

Gilda Geist is a reporter, a producer on Morning Edition, and the local host of Saturday Weekend Edition.