Short-term rentals spark concern, discussion in Marion

Dec 5, 2023

MARION — “Democracy at its best”: That’s how Planning Board member Andrew Daniel described the board’s Dec. 4 meeting, where a number of Marion residents took to the podium to discuss short-term rental properties in town — and what to do about them.

Monday night was the Planning Board’s second informal discussion on the topic. Several board members are concerned that short-term rentals are “commercial activity in residential zones,” which may have “augmented the culture of the town in a way that people are unhappy about.”

Short-term rentals are houses, apartments, or rooms that can be rented out by homeowners on a nightly basis.

According to Massachusetts state law, “short-term” refers to any rental period of 31 days or less. Online rental services like AirBnB and VRBO allow owners to rent out their properties for certain amounts of time.

Members of the Planning Board are also concerned with potential health and safety issues and the loss of a “community feel” in the town due to the abundance of short-term rentals.

One way to solve the short-term rental issue? Create a new town bylaw on the subject.

According to Planning Board member Andrew Daniel, the purpose of a bylaw would be to protect the health and safety of owners and renters, while also maintaining the quality of life for neighborhood residents.

“I want to write something that protects everybody: the owner of the property, their property rights, the renter,” said Daniel.“I think short-term rentals are here to stay. Right now, we don’t know how many we have [or] what we should get from them.”

Daniel said he believes a registration and inspection process will be needed for buildings used as short-term rentals.

According to Planning Board member Eileen Marum, AirBnB expansion has led to rising housing costs due to priority being given to travelers rather than residents.

“My conclusion is that short-term rentals are not worth it,” said Marum. “A small portion of people would benefit, but not everyone.”

According to Marum, AirBnB expansion in certain areas has raised average rents by nearly $400. “If you have a lot of AirBnBs in your community, I think it destroys the fabric of the neighborhood because then you don’t know who your neighbors are,” she added.

However, Daniel said that studies conducted by the Pew Charitable Trust and Harvard Business Review show that “a lot of the assumptions, like decreased property value, are not on there.”

“They didn’t find [short-term rentals] to have any effect on that,” said Daniel. “A lot of the things that we are stamping as ‘definitely true,’ those studies didn’t find them to be definitely true.”

Marion residents who attended Monday’s meeting had mixed feelings about the prevalence of short-term rentals in town.

Marion resident and AirBnB owner Michelle Crowley said, “We don’t have places in Marion for people to come and visit family. We had a guest here for 20 days who was visiting their elderly mom and they were so grateful to have a place to stay in town.”

Dan Crete, who owns a property in Marion which he rents out on AirBnB, said he wouldn’t be “offended” to have a board of health inspection on his rental property.

“The fees we already pay aren’t terrible and if they changed a bit, that would be fine with me,” said Crete. “What scares me is, ‘No, you can’t do it.’”

Marion resident Dianne Cosman spoke on the abundance of short-term rentals in town.

“I have an AirBnB [in] the house next to me, behind me, two houses down from me,” she said. “I have granddaughters. I used to let them walk around, now I don’t want them doing that because I don’t know who’s in the neighborhood.”

Marion resident Laura Hussey agreed.

“As someone who would love to raise a family in Marion, I would worry about letting my kids ride around the neighborhood on their bicycles when [there are] a lot of transient people in the area,” Hussey said.

“My concern is that twenty years from now I will wake up and a whole bunch of these houses, especially in the village, will be owned by hedge funds in Wisconsin,” Burr said. “Most of the people in this room who are here to talk about their short-term rentals are actually here and physically hand people the keys. They are members of this community.”

The Marion Planning Board will continue these discussions in a meeting on Monday, Dec. 8 and it aims to write a bylaw that will be ready to be presented at Town Meeting, according to Burr.

Burr said that short-term rental bylaws written by other towns, including Barnstable and Mashpee, could serve as a basis for Marion’s future bylaw.

“A lot of Cape towns have already passed stuff like this, so it is easy to look at what they’ve done,” said Burr. “Obviously, we are trying to tailor it to Marion, but [we want to look] at other towns and what has already worked for them.”

“It’s hard because none of these other communities are us,” said Planning Board member Ryan Burke. “I’ve looked at everything from New York City to Nantucket …I think the way we are going to generate what we need for our bylaws is from the people of our town on both sides.”