Vol. I No. 10 12/15/2020
Short Term Rentals
The last item on the agenda of the Select Board meeting, December 10, was a problem presented by ten Stockbridge neighbors.
A house in their neighborhood was purchased by a nonoccupant-owner as a business — short-term rentals through the online booker, Airbnb.
The neighbors' complaints included noise, a general unsightliness with large dumpsters in the yard, and overcrowding.
According to the Tri-Town Health Department, the three-bedroom house had a septic tank rated for 6 occupants, but the property was advertised as a "party house" able to accommodate 15.
Tenant comments posted on Airbnb, said, at one point, the septic system apparently failed as there was a strong odor of sewage in the front yard.
In general, the neighbors' complaint was that a nonoccupant owner did not care about the neighborhood as an occupant would, and that this new style business is not subject to the same regulations as a B&B or an inn would be. The neighbors appealed to the Select Board for help.
Town Administrator Michael Canales explained that the Commonwealth placed no regulations on "Airbnb"-type businesses. Regulation was left to local governments. Stockbridge does not have any regulations for "Airbnb"s.
Two Planning Board (PB) members were present and were appealed to. One said a general bylaw regulating this new type of business could and should be written. Since the town is paying for one consulting planner and the PB requested funds for another, perhaps one could draft a proposed bylaw to regulate this hybrid. However, the second PB member pushed back and did not want the consultants to address a new issue.
The issues before the PB are many years old without movement, and with some disagreement about their importance. The issue presented by the neighbors is the cutting edge of an emerging problem. The specific example may be an extreme case, but an extreme case may be a gift. In its extremity, it clearly demonstrates the breadth of the problems Stockbridge needs to address and regulate.
Change is inevitable. We urge the PB to be flexible and responsive to emerging problems. This particular problem goes to the questions: what is the heart of our community, and what do we want Stockbridge to look like in future? Guiding the answers is to those two questions is the very essence of good planning.
There is a term in sailing — "yare". It means quick to the helm — responding promptly — managing well. There is another sailing term — "in irons". It means stalled unable to move. May our PB be yare and not "in irons" — not stalled and unable to maneuver as the world around us rapidly changes.