MANCHESTER — A study on short-term rentals in Manchester, and how they affect the housing market and local economy, is expected to begin in late summer or early fall, Planning and Zoning Director Janet Hurley told the Manchester Planning Commission on Monday night.
The only question is whether Manchester Village — which has its own government and its own zoning bylaw — will join in the study. That decision is expected in August, she said.
The board also appointed a new chair and outlined its goals for work on a new town plan this fall.
NO SHORT-TERM FIX
The consultant chosen for the short-term rental study, Doug Kennedy, has worked previously for the town on a case study of whether two sites — Depot Street and property in front of the Hampton Inn — could be used to create workforce housing. If the village trustees don’t agree to join the study, the town will still move forward, Hurley said.
In this study, Hurley and new board Chairman Phil Peterson said, Kennedy will work to determine how many housing units are being rented on a short-term basis, how that affects the housing market and how much money renters pump into the local economy.
“We need to understand the landscape,” Peterson said.
Bill Drunsic, who has been speaking to the commission and the Select Board about the issue for several months, said he still believes the town’s existing bylaws are sufficient to address short-term rental businesses, like Airbnb, established in residential areas where lodging businesses are not allowed.
The financial and housing effects are only part of the issue, Drunsic said; it’s also whether short-term rental businesses are “flying under the cover of the internet” to avoid rules and regulations other hospitality businesses must follow.
But some members of the commission — Peterson and Greg Boshart in particular — questioned if the town bylaws are clear on whether a short-term rental qualifies as a bed and breakfast or an inn. “We have to [understand the market] before we crowbar short-term rentals into a new category,” Peterson said.
As the commission began its work Monday with its annual reorganization votes, Boshart asked if anyone else wanted to be chair. Boshart has remained on the board despite moving from Manchester to Dorset during his tenure — which is allowed under state law. “I feel like it’s come up in conversation previously. … I don’t want it to become an issue in the future,” he said.
Commission member Leon Ward nominated Peterson as chairman, with Chris Glabach seconding the motion. The vote was unanimous, as was Ward’s follow-up motion to name Boshart vice chairman and Chris Glabach as secretary.
The meeting was also the first for new member Megan Amundson, a nonprofit development consultant. Amundson also has worked in development at Tufts University, where she holds a master’s degree in urban and environmental policy and planning. She was formerly executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Massachusetts, a reproductive rights advocacy group.