Owner proposes modification for Lampost rentals

Commissioner calls any loss to workforce housing a ‘detriment.’

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The owner of 6 Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs proposes to keep some units unrestricted use and others as workforce housing. — Brian Dowd

After coming under fire for renting out apartment units on Airbnb, the owner of 6 Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, known as the Lampost building, is seeking a modification to allow for a majority of the building’s units to have unrestricted rental use.

At a meeting with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Land Use Planning Committee Monday, commissioners gave feedback on what information they would like building owner Adam Cummings to gather before meeting with the full commission.

Cummings, who owns the building formerly known as the Lampost, came under fire in December from commissioners and MVC staff for being out of compliance with the conditions that restricted the use of his building for workforce housing.

The commission’s original development of regional impact (DRI) decision clarified that the units would be rented out “as needed” as workforce housing.

“As offered by the applicant, the units shall be rented to employees of local businesses either as permanent year-round housing or temporary housing as needed,” the 2017 decision reads.

Cummings is asking for a modification to change the commission’s workforce housing condition to: 

  • “As offered by the Applicant, four (4) units with a total of nine (9) bedrooms shall be rented to employees of local businesses either as permanent year-round housing or temporary housing.
  • “The rental workforce housing shall be for members of the seasonal or year-round workforce.
  • “The applicant shall provide the MVC with yearly rental documentation proving that the residential units are utilized by Island employees, no later than Dec. 31 of each year.”

The proposed modification states there are 10 residential units in the building, and that four should remain an unrestricted use, aligning it with other similarly approved projects in the area such as Phillips Hardware’s. The hardware store has two of its eight units restricted for affordable housing.

The commission was notified in May 2021 that several units in the building were being offered for short-term rentals on Airbnb. Following several months of email exchanges, the commission met with Cummings in December, where he doubled down on his interpretation of the project’s conditions.

DRI coordinator Alex Elvin told commissioners that only seven of the 10 units have been used as approved since 2019.

According to documentation provided by Cummings, since 2019 the units have been rented to employees of various local businesses, through Airbnb, and family and friends. Rooms rented on Airbnb grew from two units in 2019 to four units in 2021.

A list provided by Cummings also showed more than 90 Airbnb rentals booked between 2019 and 2021.

Jonathan Holter, who was representing Cummings, said he was not involved in any prior deliberations or enforcement.

“The applicant is eager to get on the same page as the commission and eliminate the gray area,” he said. “I’m not going to argue the meaning of ‘as needed’ or even that this is a reduction of the workforce housing. The applicant obviously disagrees with the commission’s reading of it, and I’m just here to get the modification hopefully through.”

Commissioner Douglas Sederholm said Cummings would have to address how there could be a different interpretation of the conditions, or propose a modification with the understanding that any loss of workforce housing would be a detriment.

“I think I have to point out, Jonathan, what should be obvious, which is, you should have an explanation why the applicant feels there is any gray area here, or any room for more than one reading of the conditions,” Sederholm said. 

Commissioner Fred Hancock said it was Cummings’ business plan, not an MVC idea, that all the apartments would be workforce housing.

“This wasn’t something that was imposed on the applicant. We just memorialized what the testimony was to us for the project in writing down these conditions,” Hancock said. “It was the business plan.”

Commissioner Kathy Newman said she wanted to know how the word was spread about the available apartments.

“It’s surprising that there were empty spaces in these apartments, given what I understand about the need for housing for the workforce,” she said.

Commissioners also wanted to get more information on when each apartment became available to rent, and what the rent structure was for the apartments for Airbnb, the workforce units, and for family and friends.

“We did ask about the larger apartments on the top floor, and I believe we were told those were for in-house managers, which seemed like a reasonable use,” Hancock said. “So to find out they’re Airbnb rentals is concerning.”

Sederholm suggested commissioners use MVTV recordings to review what was said.

Holter thanked the commission for their feedback, and said he was prepared to argue his client’s case. “Sling the arrows; I’m expecting there to be some friction, and there’s obviously a difference of opinion,” Holter said.

The full commission will take up the issue at its March 17 meeting at 7 pm. 

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is so Vineyard. Make a promise to get permission then do as you please. Greed is ruining this whole country.

  2. It sounds like the MVC wasn’t as keen on the application as they probably thought. Going forward however, if other rental properties are allowed to utilize Airbnb for a portion of their units while offering some for workforce housing, this property shouldn’t be treated any differently. Unless there are different rules for different owners. If that is the case, the MVC should be required to share what that criteria is.

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