Short-Term Renters Share Viewpoints

            The second discussion held by the Marion Planning Board on short-term rentals ushered in the perspective of people doing the renting, and Monday night’s public meeting at the Police Station was well attended as the board entertained more points of view.

            “Eighty percent of our business are guests here for something to do with Marion,” said Marion-based realtor Bernadette Kelly, who was looking to dispel the notion that short-term rentals in town are owned by investors from far-away places devoid of any interest in the community.

            Kelly says her short-term clients typically visit Marion to attend family events and Tabor Academy events, including trustees of the school by the sea.

            “The reason we started doing this is because we host a family reunion at our house. We could never find the room,” said Kelly. “I have never been approached for a prom party … by underage people. This is much more about Marion.”

            Kelly was not the only landlord to speak, but her sentiments were echoed by other renting residents concerned that the town may enact a bylaw that from their point of view, would cripple Marion’s ability to host visitors.

            The Planning Board’s initial discussion was prompted by residents in coastal neighborhoods who have become concerned that Airbnb-style rentals of homes in their neighborhoods constitutes a commercial activity and thereby augments the community in an uncomfortable manner. People are saying they feel like they have hotels instead of neighbors, and they don’t know who their neighbors are.

            They want oversight, and the Planning Board has begun to entertain a bylaw meant to offer those residents a comfort zone. Board Chairman Tucker Burr asked the members to size up the problem and return on December 4 prepared to discuss potential solutions.

            “Hopefully, we’ll eventually come to an agreement on what a bylaw would look like,” said Burr, outlining a process that would necessarily include a public hearing that would be advertised in The Wanderer, then reckoning with feedback presented and finally, a potential article crafted by the middle of March for the Annual Town Meeting warrant.

            Before the floor was opened to the public, each board member was asked to respond to the issue.

            “Short-term rentals are here to stay, so it’d be nice to get some oversight,” said Vice Chairman Andrew Daniel, who considers inspections essential. “My goal with this – purpose very similar (to) Barnstable and New Bedford, is health and safety welfare, quality of life for surrounding residents, home values. … I’m going to write something that protects everybody.”

            Member Jon Henry wasn’t so sure the Planning Board should be taking the process too far at this time.

            “I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Henry cautioned, citing the authority of other adjudicatory boards, “starting with the Select Board on down that have input on this subject. … The selectmen issue business permits.”

            Henry referenced a 30-minute conversation he had held earlier in the day with Fire Chief Brian Jackvony to get his feedback on the safety issue, potential overcrowding and traffic.

            “Before looking at other towns … I feel as though we’re ignoring people who have jurisdiction,” said Henry, alluding to septic systems as one example. “We all hear from the Buzzards Bay Coalition … one of the leading causes for nitrogen in the bay is failed septic systems. … They might just be overtaxed.”

            Any power that the town has to control short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, Henry is convinced, will come down to zoning. In the meantime, he is adamant that the next step is getting Marion’s other boards, commissions and committees in on the discussion.

            Attending the meeting remotely, member Alanna Nelson said the state Department of Revenue is necessarily involved once a rental exceeds 14 days.

            Agreeing with comments made by Henry and Nelson, board member Eileen Marum shared a report she authored on the subject, examining economic costs and benefits of short-term rentals.

            “My concern is the rising housing costs. I believe that’s the key problem, not only in Marion but all across the United States,” said Marum, who feels as though short-term rentals gone unchecked could further leverage lower-income families out of Marion.

            “Even small changes in housing supplies can cause significant price increases,” said Marum, adding that she believes “this is a reason why we’re not seeing young families in Marion. … Short-term rentals are not worth it … it benefits a small portion of people.”

            Advocating for a tax on water, Marum argued that the shift from traditional hotels to Airbnb lodging leads to less reliable tax payments to communities. “If you have a lot of Airbnbs in your community, I think it destroys the fabric of the community because you don’t know who your neighbors are,” she said.

            Henry noted that the Town of Marion has an enterprise system for water but not for sewer. He identified the complexities of taxing sewer as a key issue.

            Marum suggested taxing those who rent Airbnbs but admitted it is difficult to be sure how many guests are using a house. “I think you would have to put a substantial tax on the water,” she said.

            Member Ryan Burke told the board that he has looked at Salem, which requires special permits. That adjudication process allows the town to hear from abutters seriously affected by the short-term rental in their neighborhood.

            Daniel reiterated his interest in some regulation but not overregulation. He suggested a $1,000,000 policy in short-term rental insurance.

            “If we write something, we have the ability to put those things in there. … I’d rather have some regulation than overregulation,” he said. “I’d like to have a list of who owns these properties and who stays there.”

            Daniel thinks it prudent to learn if the trash is being put out or if an Airbnb is being overrun with rats because tenants are not being responsible. “The owner also has a hand in this game,” he said.

            Select Board member Randy Parker noted that the Marion Select Board opted in on the bed-and-breakfast tax.

            Resident Dianne Cosman asked Kelly to confirm collection of taxes and the passing of that money to the state. Kelly confirmed it goes to the state, not back to the renters.

            “I think your kind of business is probably what we should have. It’s the little neighborhoods that are the big concerns for me,” said Cosman. “Route 6 is a totally different situation than those of us who live in these residential neighborhoods. Planting Island, I have an Airbnb next to me. People coming for weekends … I have no idea who they are.”

            Cosman said she no longer feels comfortable letting her granddaughters out of the house.

            Town Planner Doug Guey-Lee, sitting in as board administrator in the absence of Terri Santos, reminded the attendees that all questions should be directed through the board chairman and emphasized “comments … we’re looking for opinions.”

            Residents Kitt Sawitsky and Pam Oliveira spoke, echoing Cosman’s long-standing concern about the character of the neighborhood.

            “I don’t think there’s a lot of controversy about Airbnbs and if someone wants to build a hotel, if it’s zoned, but a dwelling place that has become a business. What matters to me is the neighborhood now has transient people who are not invested in their neighbors or the community,” said Sawitsky.

            Resident Dan Crete, who also owns the 288 Wareham Street boatyard, acknowledged as a renter that there could be problems in certain areas.

            “We’re registered and complying with all the regulations we’re aware of. We’re very careful of who’s in there and how many,” said Crete, who recalled terminating a rental during a Tabor graduation. “There’s a certain responsibility that comes with it.

            “In my mind, the idea of having to register with the town, a small fee, $200 a year, doesn’t offend me. … What scares me is the ‘no, you can’t do it’ kind of thing.”

            Michelle Crowley, who operates an Airbnb on Spring Street, serves many people coming to visit family or for Tabor-related events.

            “We don’t have places for people to come to visit family. To ban it or to put a lot of regulations on it are going to change things for people,” she said. “My question would be, let’s see the police report; are we really having a problem with too many people overcrowding, causing problems?”

            Dr. Laura Hussey, who grew up summers in a seasonal cottage in Marion, is concerned after she said vagabonds were camping out and approached girls at Brainard Marsh. She said that situation decreased her sense of Marion as “homey and safe.” Agreeing with Henry, she pointed to zoning. “We’re looking for some insulation against commercial activities.”

            Burr said he is concerned that 20 years from now he will wake up to learn these properties are owned by hedge funds based in Wisconsin, but Kelly disagreed.

            “From a business point of view, they’re not going to invest here. We don’t have that kind of resort destination appeal. And that’s a good thing,” said Kelly.

            “I wonder how many (Cape Cod) towns would have said that 50 years ago,” Burr replied.

            Daniel reiterated that the town would do well to have “a mechanism … you have some control, some authority, some teeth in it.”

            Burr wrapped up the discussion and encouraged attendees to continue submitting comments to Santos. He said, pending more development in the discussion, that the matter could be revisited when the board meets next on December 18.

            Per developer Matt Zuker’s request, the board voted to continue to January 2, 2024 at 7:05 pm the public hearing on 78 Wareham Road LLC (aka The Cottages.) Zuker is seeking a Special Permit. The project is subject to Major Site Plan Review.

            The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for Monday, December 18, at 7:00 pm at the Police Station on Route 6.

Marion Planning Board

By Mick Colageo

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