Commission and consultants undertaking model bylaw project

Vineyard towns will be able to adapt the bylaws for their own use.

A Nantucket court case is forcing a reassessment of the Vineyard's short-term rental laws. —MV Times

Updated May 22.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is in the process of working with consultants Barrett Planning Group to update its 10-year-old Affordable and Community Housing Zoning Analysis on Martha’s Vineyard, which will include providing a model short-term rental bylaw that towns can adapt for their own use.

This update will give towns more than a dozen model bylaws that they can use to update their regulations, including for short-term rentals and for accessory dwelling units.

The MVC’s effort follows towns reaching out to the commission for help drafting zoning bylaws, as well as a Massachusetts Land Court decision in March that required Island towns to update their zoning bylaws.

Laura Silber, Island housing planner at the commission, said the goal of the new zoning analysis is to provide tools so towns can update their bylaws, assess what is missing from them, and help plan next steps. “It’s to provide a toolkit, as requested by the towns,” Silber said.

The commission’s collaborators on this project, Barrett Planning Group, are a consultancy based in Hingham that worked on the recently unveiled Tisbury master plan.

Commission staff and Barrett Planning met with Vineyard town officials this winter, and received lists of zoning bylaw priorities from town planning boards and housing committees.

“We will craft a model short-term rental bylaw for towns to adapt to their specific needs,” Silber told The Times. She likened the process to creating model bylaws for other housing tools, such as an accessory dwelling unit model bylaw or a mixed-use model bylaw.

“When you’re looking at short-term rentals, you’re looking at what the current impact is on the community,” Silber said. She added that town officials will weigh the priorities of their residents, and consider available zoning tools that can regulate housing activity.

Silber said the need to update town zoning bylaws is a key takeaway from the state land court’s decision for Nantucket in March. It ruled that a home used primarily as a short-term rental could be considered a commercial enterprise, something not allowed in residential areas.

Vineyard towns, Silber said, will have to pass short-term rental bylaws in order to make such rentals an allowable use.

“The state is starting to put some directives [into place] about short-term rentals … [In] the decision on Nantucket, the land court said that you need a bylaw for short-term rentals. The state is saying you have to make this an allowable use in some way in order for it to be an allowable use,” she said.

Silber added that the state building code is going to change this summer, and will require municipalities to inspect their short-term rentals to meet safety requirements. She said codifying short-term rentals is the way to address this as well.

When Vineyard towns receive the commission’s model bylaw, Silber said, they will be able to choose whether to codify specific parts, or, figuratively, what levers to pull.

“It will outline levers,” Silber said. “Do [town officials] want to regulate how many short-term rentals one person can own? The answer might be different from one town to another. West Tisbury said yes. I don’t know [regarding] other towns.”

Accessory dwelling unit bylaws are another aspect of the commission’s effort. “Towns have come to us asking for help crafting those bylaws,” Silber said.

According to Silber, the model bylaw process is a common one; the Cape Cod Commission has carried out such a process.

West Tisbury’s short-term rental bylaw was a major outcome of its annual town meeting last month. Voters passed an article meant to limit corporations from buying town properties and renting them on online services such as Airbnb.

The bylaw, approved 151 votes to 12, states that property owners can utilize only one property as a short-term rental, and that they must live in that property at least 30 days a year.

Owners renting on Airbnb must also rent for at least two nights at a time. The bylaw additionally requires all short-term rentals to be registered with the town annually.

Last week, West Tisbury formed a committee to recommend the rules and regulations that will go with this bylaw.

“West Tisbury played out really well,” said Silber of that vote. “The bylaw passed in a landslide. West Tisbury was really able to craft something that worked for the needs of their community.”