Heated debate over regulation of short-term rentals at Great Barrington stalls

GREAT BARRINGTON — It remains to be seen whether a proposed bylaw to limit short-term rentals (STRs) will find its way onto the term of the annual municipal meeting, but few issues in town have sparked so much contentious debate since the possibility of return of horse racing to the Great Barrington Showground was established almost three years ago. In both cases, the main driving force and agitator was selection committee member Leigh Davis.

Various city councils have been discussing the concept of STR regulations since September 2021 after the housing subcommitteewhich included members of the planning and selection councils, was created in 2019 to explore strategies to improve housing affordability in a city where homeownership and affordable rentals are rapidly becoming out of reach for residents middle income.

Leigh Davis. Photo provided

In question is a revised version since proposal by Davis, who is now vice-chairman of the board, for a settlement that would significantly reduce the number of short-term rentals available in Great Barrington by preventing STR operators from renting residential units or rooms not located in the main residence of the operator or on the same tax plot as the main residence of the operator.

The idea is that Great Barrington is in the throes of a housing crisis and too many housing units are being used as short term rentals by Airbnb Where Vrbo. Limiting the number of STRs would therefore make more housing available for people who need it.

In response to complaints not only from fellow board member Ed Abrahams, but also from full-time and part-time residents, Davis revised his proposal. Click here see this.

See the video below of the Great Barrington Selectboard meeting on February 28. The discussion on short-term rentals begins at 11:30 p.m.:

In response to what she called “misinformation” on social media, Davis stressed that her revised proposal did not affect homeowners’ rights to rent their homes on a seasonal or monthly basis. Nor was it intended to be a solution to the city’s housing problem.

“The intent of this bylaw was never to create affordable housing, nor was it to be the sole solution to the city’s housing crisis,” Davis said.

Instead, the intent and primary purpose of Davis’ revised proposal is to “deter commercial interests from purchasing housing to be used primarily as short-term rental businesses”, while allowing “residents to earn extra money from their properties to allow themselves to live better here”. , maintain their properties and contribute to the community.

Ed Abraham
Ed Abrahams. Photo: David Scribner

The proposal would also require those offering STRs to register with the city and obtain a license. But that would treat part-time residents differently than those who lived in town full-time, which Davis defines as “any homeowner who resides more than 183 days, in total, in the town of Great Barrington.” And she defined the STR as “residential accommodation for no more than thirty consecutive days”.

One of Abrahams’ objections to Davis’s proposal centered on the fact that it set different standards for year-round residents and part-time residents – a distinction he believed Davis abandoned when she went back to the drawing board to revise her proposal.

“So we’re back to differentiating between primary residents and secondary owners?” asked Abrahams.

“Yeah,” Davis replied.

“It was underhanded,” Abrahams said. “I would again object to dividing us into second home owners…people who live here for 183 days versus people who live here for 180 days.”

Selection committee chairman Steve Bannon, who had previously been inclined to support Davis, also seemed surprised to see the distinction: “We said we weren’t going to make a distinction between full-time and part-time residents. partiel.”

Davis underlined the purpose of his proposal:[To] dissuade commercial interests from purchasing housing to be used primarily as short-term rental businesses. Moreover, she added, one of the main elements of her revised proposal, “An entire dwelling can be rented for up to 90 days per calendar year as of right”, does not distinguish between the two types. of owners.

Garfield Reed. Photo provided

Davis has tangled with Abrahams since the start of the year. Davis’ main ally on the board, Garfield Reed, agreed with her. Reed is a cancer survivor who is passionate about affordable housing and secured his Castle Hill Avenue home thanks to construction inc., a non-profit affordable housing and rental assistance group based in Great Barrington. The fifth member of the selection committee, Eric Gabriel, recused himself from any involvement in Davis’ proposal because he is an owner operating in the city.

“I think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s limiting at all,” Reed said.

“I am convinced that we need to limit people coming only as investors to buy properties for short term rental, so that is what [the proposal] talk to,” Davis explained. “It limits someone who is a full-time resident to two properties that they operate on short-term rental. Someone who is a part-time resident or non-resident can only have one.

Of the value of his proposal, Davis added: “It speaks directly to the need for housing in Great Barrington and the shortages we are currently seeing.”

Public opinion among the fifteen spectators who weighed in on the subject was divided. Main Street resident James Manning said he wanted Davis’s proposal to be even stricter and insisted that short-term rentals were tantamount to running a hotel in a residential area.

Knob Hill Road resident Dan Ruderman agreed, adding that “we can all agree that anyone who makes money on their house is running a business. They run a business and earn money.

“Leigh did a balancing act and that balancing act made sense,” Ruderman said. “If there’s a better way to do it, I’m not sure what it is. The idea is that as a community we want to keep houses as houses and we want to do whatever we can to encourage houses to be used by people who live here all the time and work here without being discriminatory towards anyone else.

President of the jury Steve Bannon. Photo: David Scribner

Michelle Loubert and Bannon, members of the city’s finance committee, both from Great Barrington, reiterated their concerns that Davis’ proposal would in fact punish longtime residents who retire and spend more of the half the year elsewhere. “These non-residents may have been our neighbors for the past 40 years,” Bannon said.

Natalya Price, a New Jersey real estate agent with a second home on Monument Valley Road, noted that the shortage of affordable housing is a national problem and that Great Barrington is not a one-size-fits-all place. Price also questioned whether the proposal would free up units for affordable housing.

“Short-term rentals tend to be upgraded and nice, and so they will sell in the market at a high price, so for people who need something affordable, it’s not those homes,” said explained Price. “They will likely be bought by second home buyers.”

Abrahams and others opposed to Davis’ proposal suggested, as an alternative, a tax or impact fee on short-term rentals, the proceeds of which could be spent to create more affordable housing in Great Barrington.

Council has not made a decision on whether to recommend the proposal for the annual municipal meeting in June. Bannon observed that the discussion was “circling” again. The next board meeting will be on Monday, March 7, and discussion is expected to continue at that time.

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