Voters at Nantucket’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have sharply restricted short-term rentals on the island.
By a more than two-to-one margin, island residents shot down a proposal that would have barred many property owners from leasing homes to tourists for more than 45 nights a year, or for less than a week at a time.
Advocates said the plan would help rein in an onslaught of short-term rentals they say is squeezing the island’s already scarce housing stock. But many in Nantucket’s business community said it risked squelching the tourism that drives much of the island’s economy and would do little to reduce housing costs in a place where the typical home last year sold for more than $2 million.
More than 1,000 people turned out for the meeting, according to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket’s Economy, a business group that opposed the short-term rental rules. The meeting was held in massive white tents alongside Nantucket Elementary School because of concerns over COVID-19. Town Meeting rejected the measure by a vote of 625-297, according to news reports and people in attendance Saturday.
In a statement, ACK Now, the advocacy group that proposed the measure, said members of the group will refine their plan to better reflect the concerns of residents, and aim to bring a new version next year. Even before Saturday’s vote, the group had offered amendments to exempt year-round residents from the rules and said it will keep working toward a compromise that makes sense to all on the island.
“It’s a worthy cause. We look forward to refining a program that works for the community,” said executive chairman Tobias Glidden, in a text message. “Nantucket will regulate short-term rentals. It’s not a question of if, but when.”
Regardless of Saturday’s vote, town officials and members of Nantucket’s Select Board have signaled plans to address the island’s booming short-term rental industry, which according to one UMass study, now accounts for roughly 90 percent of visitor lodging nights on the island.
In a community with roughly 12,000 homes, more than 2,200 have been registered for short-term rental use, according to ACK Now. That number reflects a mix of year-round residents who host summer tourists for extra income, seasonal residents who rent their homes when not there, and landlords who operate what are essentially full-time hotels, rather than renting year-round to locals.
It’s that last group, in particular, that town officials are hoping to address with new rules, and much of the fierce debate over the measure this spring centered on how many investors and off-island owners are really leaving homes empty for tourists while Nantucket locals struggle to find housing.
The debate also took on elements of class, in a tony enclave where billionaires rub shoulders with the descendants of fishermen who still carve out a living there. Some critics of the proposal pointed to the well-funded advocacy group behind it, with its concerns over preserving Nantucket’s “character,” and said they were simply trying to make the island even more exclusive than it already is — no matter the consequences for working people who live there.
“This measure was viewed as elitist and would not have solved the affordability problem on Nantucket,” said Bruce Percelay, a Boston developer who is also publisher of Nantucket’s N Magazine. “It would have hurt many small businesses and an economy that relies on tourism.”
And on Saturday that argument prevailed.