Great Barrington voters back selectboard-crafted short-term rental bylaw at town meeting
The bylaw defines short-term as any rental 30 days or less.
“A short-term rental host would have to register their short-term rental with the town. You already must register with the state department of revenue. You would also now have to register with the town,” said Town Planner Christopher Rembold, who read the details on a dais above the Monument Mountain Regional High School parking lot where Great Barrington residents congregated to dispense with the meeting’s 33 article warrant. “If you live on the premises while it is being rented, a portion of it is being rented, you may offer unlimited short-term rentals during the year. If you are not on premises, this would limit you to just 150 short-term rentals per year.”
Residents will be able to offer up to two bedrooms or an entire second unit on their property as a short-term rental.
“You can have only one short-term rental in Great Barrington,” continued Rembold. “And the final point is that corporate owners except LLCs that disclose all their members cannot offer short-term rentals.”
The town’s effort to craft the regulation faced opposition from some homeowners, as well as Airbnb itself. The short-term rental giant furnished its hosts in Great Barrington with form letters to send to the selectboard in protest of the bylaw.
“During COVID, when my husband lost his job, we had to leave our home and turn it into short term rental property in order to cover the bills. We were fortunate that we had another smaller house in the middle of renovations that we were able to move into in order to do that. So this bill really limits my ability to support my family living in this community,” said Tracy Thornton. “It is not an easy place to be a middle class person. There not a lot of jobs available in which you can support a family. So having this rental property allows me to do that. Sometimes I rent it long-term for a year. Sometimes I rent it short-term over the summer. It really depends on what the need of my family is in that moment.”
The opposition urged voters to turn down the town’s bylaw in favor of their own, less restrictive bylaw, also on the town warrant.
Major questions remain, as town manager Mark Pruhenski explained during the meeting.
“We have not discussed compliance and enforcement at this point,” he said. “So if and when a bylaw does pass and we know what that bylaw looks like, we will have that conversation with the selectboard.”
Annie Alquist of Housatonic told meeting attendees that despite being a real estate agent and owning two rental properties in town, she was there to support the bylaw.
“My hometown is a little town in Colorado,” she told meeting attendees. “And it’s a beautiful place. And now it’s basically like a movie set. It’s like a backdrop. My community isn’t there anymore. My friends aren’t there anymore. I can go there, you can go there. But I can’t go to my community anymore, I can’t go to my roots anymore because something like this didn’t happen in time in my hometown. So my hometown community is no longer there.”
Community members shared stories of friends and former neighbors pushed out of Great Barrington over rising rents, an explosive real estate market, and a dearth of long-term rentals.
“I have a friend today who wanted to come who had to move to- she has a retail business on Main Street. She commutes 50 minutes both ways to come work in Great Barrington to sell really expensive clothes to people from the city. We might need those weekenders’ dollars, but we also need real residents to keep the town’s spirit alive,” said Kristin Grippo. “[The bylaw] will protect us from the insidious greed that brings out of town investors and LLCs to cash in in our best little small town and give real families a chance to make a life for themselves here. It’s great that the kids from the city get to ride their bikes. What about my son who was born here? What about his father who was born here? What about us?”
When the dust settled, the secret ballot count was 207-111 in favor of the town’s bylaw.
The vote was also a triumph for Leigh Davis, the driving force behind the bylaw as a member of the Great Barrington selectboard.
“I’m elated,” she told WAMC. “This is a vote for community. This is a vote for neighborhoods. This is a vote for our workforce. And we worked so hard during these eight months. And I just want to thank all the neighbors that have supported this article 25. It’s a beautiful moment for Great Barrington, and I’m thrilled.”
She says the next step for the town is to now focus on other initiatives that address the ongoing housing crisis.
“This is a complicated issue, the housing issue, and we’re going to look forward and move together with the citizens and work on crafting a housing strategy that that builds on what we’ve accomplished tonight,” said Davis.