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Short-term rentals dominate Nahant Town Meeting

Nahant Town Hall. (Jakob Menendez )

NAHANT — After more than an hour of debate, residents voted to authorize the Board of Selectmen to regulate short-term rental units at the Annual Town Meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Article 24 of the Annual Town Meeting Warrant limits the number of annual short-term rental licenses to four percent of the total number of legal dwellings in Nahant. 

The by-law also limits usage of non-owner occupied short-term rentals — such as those rented through online booking companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo — to non-commercial uses, and allows the Board of Selectmen to create, regulate and enforce regulations to mitigate noise and parking concerns.

“Without this article, there are no regulations regarding short-term rentals in the Town of Nahant,” said Advisory and Finance Committee Chair Robert Vanderslice. “We believe there are concerns about public safety. We believe there are concerns about occupant safety, concerns about nuisance and concerns about housing stock.”

Summer Street resident Michael Rauworth spoke in favor of Article 24. He said Nahant should not be an outlier to neighboring communities such as Lynn and Marblehead — both of which regulate short-term rentals.

“There’s a good reason for it. It makes sense for the phenomenon of Airbnbs to have some place in the town that’s been duly considered by the board we elected over a year ago,” Rauworth said.

Others, such as Dan Dolce, suggested the public vote to approve Article 25, a citizen’s petition to regulate with a detailed list of rules and regulations governing owners’ responsibilities, code enforcements, and registration requirements. 

Article 25, similar to Article 24, dictates that short-term rentals must not embody more than four percent of Nahant’s housing stock. The most significant difference between the two articles is Article 24 requires non-owner-occupied rental owners to obtain a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and article 25 does not.

Planning Board Chairman Rob Steinberg responded to Dolce’s plea that the public vote in favor of Article 25. He argued that a special permit process would facilitate regulation and enforcement.

“It’s not unusual for governments to have an overarching statute to govern an area and then ask that regulations specifically be put forth to govern the registration process, the permit process and the enforcement process. It’s a lot easier to do it in that context,” Steinberg said.

Nahanters voted 156-28 to pass the first part of Article 24 allowing the Board of Selectmen to regulate short-term rentals. The second portion, which amends the town’s zoning bylaws to require non-owner-occupied short-term rentals to obtain special permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals [ZBA], passed after Lennox Road resident George Mihovan motioned to amend the bylaw to ban non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in the R-1 and R-2 zones.

“People have been saying we can’t ban short-term rentals in this town. We can’t ban owner-occupied short-term rentals, but we can ban non-owner-occupied short term rentals. It’s been done all over Massachusetts — Boston does it, the biggest city in Massachusetts,” Mihovan said.

Mihovan said he lived between two non-owner-occupied short-term rentals, and he wanted to ban them because he believed they were a nuisance to the public and claimed they increased traffic, decreased property value, and took up valuable portions of the town’s housing stock.

Town Administrator Tony Barletta responded to Mihovan’s motion to amend the bylaw, arguing that any compliance issues with the town’s regulations could result in a non-owner-occupied rental unit owner’s license revocation. 

“If you are a non-owner-occupied host and you’re applying for a special permit from the ZBA, they’re going to measure your application on a number of different factors, and a lot of them speak to the concerns that you [Mihovan] just raised,” Barletta said.

Town Meeting voted 122-51 in favor of Mihovan’s amendment. After further discussion, the town voted 143-31 to adopt the amended ZBA regulations.

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