Islands look to collaborate more

Joint meeting puts spotlight on housing, short-term rentals, and coastal resiliency.

Thursday's Zoom meeting between Nantucket and Vineyard leaders drew a crowd.

Setting the Island Cup football rivalry aside, there are a lot of things Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard can collaborate on. That was one of the takeaways of a joint meeting between the select boards of Nantucket and five of the six Vineyard towns (Aquinnah was invited, but was a no-show) during a Zoom meeting Tuesday afternoon. The Dukes County Commission was also well-represented.

The meeting attracted more than 100 individuals during its height, and covered issues such as housing, short-term rentals, traffic, and coastal resiliency, among other things. While no votes were taken, the board members present reached consensus that the two Islands have a lot in common, and working together — as they’ve done recently on housing — could be helpful to both islands.

Nantucket select board chair Jason Bridges called short-term rentals one of the “hottest topics,” and sure enough, it represented a good chunk of the discussion, with officials bemoaning the influx of corporations buying properties and the loss of housing for year-round and seasonal workers, the difficulty in regulating short-term rentals, and the unpredictability of income from short-term rental taxes were among the topics.

Brooke Mohr, another Nantucket select board member, discussed how Nantucket has set up a working group to look at zoning bylaws on the Island. She also mentioned that some residents of the Island have challenged short-term rentals operating in residential-zoned neighborhoods, but those cases are working their way through the court system.
“The idea is for that [working] group to bring a recommendation back to the boards for zoning bylaws, and perhaps expansion of the regulatory framework,” Mohr said. “The idea being to define: Are there problems? What are the problems? And how do we solve for them? What do we want to protect in our short-term rental industry, and do we want to regulate it and limit it?”

While Nantucket town manager Libby Gibbs indicated that some short-term rental revenue has been used for housing on the Island, Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty noted that there remains an unpredictability to the revenue Island towns are getting from the rentals.

County commissioner Tristan Israel said neighborhoods are being lost to short-term rentals, something that commissioner Christine Todd also mentioned. “We are losing neighborhoods,” she said. “I definitely feel it in downtown Oak Bluffs.”

Chilmark select board member James Malkin said an all-Island planning board meeting next month is scheduled to discuss the effects of short-term rentals.

Representatives of both Islands spoke about the difference between corporations buying up property and year-round residents who rent their property for a few weeks during the high season to make ends meet.

“Our economy depends on short-term rentals, as does yours, and so what is the appropriate balance I think is the question this group is going to be thinking,” Mohr said.

Warren Doty, a Chilmark select board member who noted he has rented his own property, said he doesn’t want to see the Vineyard lose that tradition. “We don’t really want to change that,” he said. “It’s a long tradition in my town. People have done it for 50 years.”

The need for more affordable housing was also on the minds of those in attendance. Both communities have worked together over the past year or more on the transfer tax legislation.

“We have been advocating hard for transfer fee legislation at the State House, as yet unsuccessfully, but our town housing director, Tucker Holland, has been working hard with the coalition of folks who have been advocating to get that legislation — either a statewide enabling legislation or a home-rule petition, whichever we can manage to do,” Mohr said.

Malkin updated the group on the Vineyard’s efforts, which includes a Housing Bank Review Committee that is looking at any amendments, and will bring them back to select boards. He added that a meeting is scheduled Monday with state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, to discuss the legislation.

Malkin said the Vineyard is not looking to build new housing, but would prefer to renovate or modify existing properties to provide housing for people on the Island. Towns will have to look at zoning to allow more density and multifamily housing, he said. “Both Islands, in my opinion, there’s a phrase I use recently, are drowning under the weight of money,” he said.

Representatives of both Islands briefly bemoaned the lack of support from Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Nantucket has agreed to take on maintenance of its one state road, something the Vineyard has resisted, West Tisbury town administrator Jen Rand said.

Gibson, in answer to a question from Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande, said Nantucket doesn’t have the kind of issues with traffic that the Vineyard has, because of the length of the trip for people to bring their cars with them.

One of the areas where the Islands believe there could be more collaboration is in dealing with climate change.

Vincent Murphy, coastal resilience coordinator for Nantucket, spoke about a coastal resilience plan that was recently completed that has 14 active recommendations on dealing with coastal flooding, erosion, and sea level rising. It was recently presented to the select board.

He mentioned how Nantucket is looking to develop a climate action plan, similar to the one developed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. 

Ben Robinson, chair of the climate action task force for the MVC, spoke about how Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are working together with the Army Corps of Engineers research and development center on a comprehensive plan for both Islands. They are looking at grants with Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management for water resources from drinking water to stormwater, to wastewater, to ports and harbors, Robinson said. They’re looking for “shovel-ready programs” to develop with the Army Corps, he said.

Malkin, who represents the Vineyard on the Steamship Authority board, said there is a joint project involving the SSA and the docks and access roads to the terminals that could be a place to collaborate. He added that there could be federal grant money that could be pursued.

“Federal and state help and support, we’re going to need it,” Bridges said, noting the significant price that will be involved. “It will be much stronger if we’re on the same page, walking forward together asking for help, and we have plans.”

As the meeting wound down, Rand mentioned that the seven town administrators are in regular contact, and Todd suggested that it would be good to have these meetings more frequently.

Bridges agreed, saying they could be centered on one specific issue.

Oak Bluffs select board chair Ryan Ruley pointed out that the Island Cup is coming up soon. “I just wanted to say good luck and welcome to all the Whalers,” he said. “Go Vineyard, of course.”

“I was just going to say, Well, there’s one day we can’t really collaborate too much, but the other 364 days, we should really work together more,” Bridges responded.



  1. What a great step – working together to solve similar issues.
    Speaking of which, what happened to All-Island Select Board meetings? The Vineyard would be so much better served if all the towns worked together to solve the same big issues they are addressing with Nantucket. I urge you all to contact your Select Board and recommend they start up regular island-wide meetings. As far as I know, there hasn’t been one in three years.

  2. To start with, why can’t the influential people and common folk on both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard work together to kill any currently-approved or proposed wind farms off the Southern coasts of the two islands?

    • The influential and common folk of the Islands want to reduce their consumption of fossil based fuels.
      Why are you opposed to wind farms?
      Are they ugly?
      As ugly as smokestacks and cooling towers?
      How about the two islands work together to produce all the electricity they consume?
      Do you prefer coal or wind?

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