Barnstable Model Considered for Short-Term Rentals

            Marion Planning Board Chairman Tucker Burr polled his membership on Monday night, asking each to put into few words, if possible, why the town needs a short-term-rental bylaw and what that would accomplish. The same invitation would be extended to concerned attendees who live in usually coastal neighborhoods that they believe are being infiltrated by such.

            Dale Jones said a bylaw would “prevent some people from buying up property and turning it into a rental property.” He recommended restrictions within reason to require that the owner is present. “Something of this magnitude requires a subcommittee for the board to consider,” he added.

            “Oversight,” suggested Andrew Daniel. “By having something written, it protects the community and abutting neighbors, and it also protects the owner. The goal’s not a blanket statement … but how to incorporate all these things so it’s not harmful to anyone but is beneficial to everyone.”

            Jon Henry said that expectations should be met both for the people who rent and the people who live in the area.

            Eileen Marum read a letter submitted by Dr. Ed Hoffer into the record. Hoffer’s letter said in part that, “the market is becoming more and more dominated by absentee owners who buy properties for such rentals. This in turn inflates property values, making homes less affordable to people who wish to live in the community. … Unless we wish to see Marion becoming like Nantucket, where billionaires and wealthy vacationers dominate, we should discourage “commercial” vacation rental. … I strongly urge the Planning Board to go on record that short-term rental be limited to 2-3 weeks/year in residential-zoned houses. This will allow residents who wish to make a little extra money when they are away to do so but block “commercial” rental.

            Marum added her own viewpoint: “If we let the air-bnb’s … come in without regulation, Marion will no longer be what people come into Marion for.” Marum said enforcement and limitation on short-term rentals would also protect the prospective buyers of those houses. “I would like to know how many rentals we have.” Marum suggested a connection between a decline in the student population and is waiting on information from the town clerk. She said an occupancy tax would benefit the activities of the Affordable Housing Trust.

            Member Alanna Nelson agreed it would be smart of the town to find a way to draw revenue from short-term rental owners.

            “I think there’s a big difference between someone who owns a property and rents it and someone who buys a property to rent it short term because then they’re disguising a business,” said member Ryan Burke. “A dwelling is a permanent habitation by one or more families. I really don’t feel that a lot of these short-term rentals fit that.”

            Henry cautioned that a blanket approach could be stepping on the toes of associations with their own power.

            Upon Burr’s invitation for public participation in the conversation, several points were made for the board’s consumption.

            Larry Bauerlein offered that assuming associations have rules is erroneous. “They don’t. Many are just collegial.” He said the short-term-rental activity undermines zoning, and the town needs some sort of directive that protects the neighbors and the owners.

            Ana Bauerlein added that the town needs to act “relatively quickly … now you’ve got situations where people who have bought houses and are already running these businesses … are going to think they are grandfathered. Sooner the better off we’ll all be.”

            Dianne Cosman said she has a short-term rental operating next door, in back and another two doors down. “At some point, what do we want the town to look like in 10, 20 years? It’s only getting worse,” she said. Cosman said that under state law short-term rentals should be collecting taxes that go to the state. Then the state gives back to the town its share. A lack of policing allows owners of short-term rentals to circumvent the system and operate officially unnoticed. She also noted that some local owners stopped living locally because it became more profitable to make money by renting.

            “I’m not against licensed businesses that do this,” she said, likening the predicament to the plight of taxi drivers once companies like Uber came along.

            Overall, the residents in attendance want to preserve their neighborhoods and eliminate businesses in residential areas, whether that means licensing rentals, taxing them. Some sort of tracking, they say, is necessary, in order to ensure that a house permitted for a three-bedroom septic system, for instance, is not rented out without regulation, allowing several more to use that same system all at once.

            Burr would like to avoid appointing a subcommittee, in part because it prevents Planning Board members from legally attending its meetings.

            Barnstable and Mashpee are among towns’ board members and homeowners will study in an effort to come up with the framework of a bylaw that can go before the Annual Town Meeting next spring.

            Bill Madden of G.A.F. Engineering represented Arnie Johnson in his Pre-Submission Conference for a plan to expand his Fieldstone Farms store at 806 Mill Street. Johnson, who happens to chair the Rochester Planning Board, was in the odd seat as applicant before an adjudicatory board.

            His plan is to expand his building by adding 2,044 square feet, upgrade the Title 5 septic system – he will request waivers from the Board of Health – and increase parking to 54 spaces. Fieldstone has been on the site for three years, replacing the Frigate restaurant.

            Johnson will also file an Approval Not Required (ANR) application to convey a lot to Johnson Family Investments. He plans solar lighting on the corners of the parking lot on poles. The lighting will be monitored with a cell-phone app for seasonal applications and conditions, and the system will comply with Dark Sky standards.

            There will be an underground infiltration for stormwater, similar to what exists now in front of the existing building with pretreatment devices prior to discharge into the infiltration beds.

            One variance Johnson will seek is in lot coverage, proposed after expansion to 62% of the property. Marion’s bylaw limits coverage to 40%, but 45% was previously approved on the original project. Johnson will also be asking for waivers from an environmental assessment and traffic-impact study. He said he is willing to meet with the Energy Management Committee to discuss energy usage.

            The board asked him to open a 53G account of the minimum $2,000 for the town to cover expenses in initial vetting of the project. The board intends primarily to conduct a stormwater review. Otherwise, the members are largely thrilled with Johnson’s business.

            In two votes following the meeting’s only public hearing, the board voted to allow 133 Wareham Road LLC to reduce parking from 11 to nine spaces and voted to approve site-plan review for the construction of a medical center on the site at the corner of Point Road and Route 6.

            The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for Monday, December 4, at 7:00 pm at the Police Station on Route 6.

Marion Planning Board

By Mick Colageo

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