Lampost owner’s proposed modifications scrutinized

Cummings requests ability to continue using units for short-term rentals.

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Jonathan Holter, attorney for Adam Cummings, spoke on behalf of the building owner during the MVC Zoom meeting.

A proposal to modify how units are rented at the “Lampost building,” located at 6 Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, received significant pushback before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday night. The owner of the building, Adam Cummings, who did not make an appearance and instead was represented by his attorney, has previously been accused of noncompliance by the MVC regarding the use of the property, specifically by renting out what was initially supposed to be ‘workforce housing” as lucrative Airbnb rentals. 

Cummings’ modification proposal seeks to reduce the number of employee housing units from 10 to 4, which would lift restrictions on unit rentals.

The initial decision made in 2017 by the MVC when the development of regional impact (DRI) was approved stated that the Lampost building’s “units shall be rented to employees of local businesses either as permanent year-round housing or temporary housing as needed.”

According to the DRI findings, at least four units have been used as short-term rentals since 2019.

According to documentation provided by Cummings, the total tenant capacity is 42 tenants, and the typical rental rates for the units are $2,000 to $5,700 per month, depending on the time of year.

The MVC had sent a compliance letter to Cummings after being informed by the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee about the unrestricted rental use in June 2021. In December 2021, Cummings was informed of a one-week deadline to comply with the MVC conditions in order to avoid legal action; he then submitted the modification request.

The proposed modification seeks to change the verbiage of the condition agreement with the MVC from 10 “as needed” workforce housing units to allotting “four units, with a total of nine bedrooms” to permanent or temporary workforce housing, equaling a 60 percent reduction.

Cummings’ lawyer, Jonathan Holter, praised Cummings for “voluntarily” going “above and beyond” by taking “a former multistory nightclub and bar and convert[ing] the building into a beautiful mixed-use building that will have at least four of 10 units dedicated to workforce housing.” Of the original agreement, Holter said that because of the verbiage, the use of the units is “open to interpretation,” adding that his client is simply “looking for a modification to clarify a poorly drafted condition.” 

Commissioner Doug Sederholm vehemently disagreed, noting the clarity of the agreement.

“I don’t believe the argument made by the applicant holds water in any way whatsoever,” commissioner Fred Hancock added. “It speaks to the credibility of the applicant to think that we are so gullible that we can’t read English.” 

The commission’s initial statement that “the request to reduce the number of workforce housing units from 10 to four would still be consistent with the MVC housing policy” was met with some animosity among an array of Island board and commission representatives, many citing that both the initial proposal and modification were presented by Cummings as workforce housing. “By taking these 20-some beds off the market for workforce, we’re actually hurting our seasonal businesses here on the Island. Businesses are having to reduce their hours, because they can’t house staff [or] hire staff,” said Mark Leonard, a member of the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee. Citing that Cummings’ original proposal was to make all the building units available solely for work staff, Leonard said that it’s become evident that the units “hasn’t been used for workforce housing since day one, and that there has been an effort to use it for short-term [rentals] for a personal gain.” Advocating for solidarity, Leonard said, “At this point on the Island, it takes everybody, every businessman, every owner, every affordable housing committee, and every MVC commissioner to stand up and say no. Workforce housing is more important than short-term rentals. Please don’t approve this modification.” Ewell Hopkins, chair of the Oak Bluffs planning board, noted that if the commission were to grant the modifications, the planning board would not have the authority to reconsider the initial permit. The modification, if granted, would “set a wrong precedent going forward,” and could enable developers to feel they can “get away with” capitalizing on short-term rentals meant for workforce housing.

This opinion was echoed by affordable housing advocate Jefrey DuBard. DuBard called out Cummings and his attorneys, stating the original decision was based solely on the use of the units as workforce units, and that Cummings and his attorneys “now come back and want to reduce those offerings,” but are framing their intentions regarding the modifications to be merely altruistic. He added it is surprising, considering the housing crisis, that Cummings seems to have “nothing but indignation when it comes to this issue.”

A date for formal deliberations regarding both the modifications proposal and the issue of complacency by the MVC has not yet been set. 

13 COMMENTS

  1. This request belies is an extraordinary abuse of good will towards all businesspeople on this Island and Mr. Cummings should be ashamed of himself, although clearly he isn’t. This vapid request must be rejected firmly in unanimity with not recourse to appeal.

    It must also be considered that the original minutes and any videotaped proceedings from the initial permitting request and process as well as any and all paperwork pertaining to this debacle be considered for a heavy duty lawsuit against this rogue Islander. This must not stand. Whatsoever.

    • Why should the MVC require any business to provide employee housing? Where do you see that in their enabling legislation? The enabling legislation does note the MVC should promote the local economy which vacation rentals are a huge part. This property owner is willing to allot 40% of their housing for employees. That’s huge and should be commended.

      • Commended? Absolutely not. It’s an agreement. The project simply would not have been approved without the housing stipulation. What a gross, greedy, over reach. We shouldn’t have to commend a party for keeping their end of an agreement. Imagine if Peter Martell could weigh in..do the right thing Adam and Janet. We are your island neighbors

  2. There is no question that the original agreement was breeched. Do the right thing MVC. There has never been a more important time to stand up for the original agreement “…shall be rented to employees of local businesses either as permanent year-round housing or temporary housing as needed”

  3. Workforce housing is so critically important to Martha’s Vineyard and for the MVC to approve a large number of units which by the way provides a significant income stream, the owner should be grateful and comply with the restriction terms. Rental prices set for a workforce housing are not insignificant, and while it’s possible to make more money by renting it via Airbnb, Mr. Cumming should take the highroad and prove that you can do something good and have it be profitable at the same time. We don’t always have to try to make the most money possible at the expense of the needs of the community.

  4. The island towns and the MVC need to get together to find a way to cut down on Airbnb rentals. They are destroying the availability of seasonal rentals. What might work is to take the short term rental tax and use it to reduce taxes on workforce seasonal rentals. This rental situation is getting worse every year. And yes, shame on Mr.Cumming for completely ignoring his MVC directive in order to make a fast buck.

    • Why should Airbnb rentals be cut down?
      What about the places that rent single rooms, hotels.
      If those rooms were used for working people there would be no housing crisis.

  5. I bet you can expect Cummings has contracts with everyone he does business with and he holds them to IT
    PERIOD.
    End of discussion.
    You agreed to it and signed it.
    See ya.

  6. Imagine how many rentals would become available for work force housing if zoning bylaws were changed so that Airbnb’s and short term rentals were not permitted in the R1-4 zoning districts in OB. Or, imagine the decreased housing demand for seasonal workers if the SSA agreed to a year round fast ferry from WH. The aforementioned solutions do not necessitate any action on Beacon Hill or at the polls. Yes, Mark Leonard is correct, all island stakeholders need for advocate for smart solutions.

  7. Imagine all the housing that would be available if zoning prohibited short term rentals like AirBnB and hotel rooms.

  8. A WH fast ferry will not only solve the Island’s housing problem but will finally bring some relief to Falmouth’s decades long decline.
    Falmouth will achieve it’s destiny to be a bedroom community for the Island’s worker bees.

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