North Adams Council Expects Short-Term Rental Ordinance Draft Next Month

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A draft of a short-term rental ordinance is under review before it comes back before the General Government Committee. 
 
Committee Chairman Wayne Wilkinson gave an update on the proposal during councilor's concerns at last week's City Council meeting after two residents spoke on the issue.
 
"The building inspector has come up with a draft proposal that's something that he feels that he can enforce," said Wilkinson. "At this point is been sent to a consultant we've hired ... It will then get sent back to the administration I believe, hopefully, soon, as he works pretty fast. And the final destination is the city solicitor. When all that's done, it will come back to General Government. My committee will get to look at it again."
 
The city's been trying to get a short-term rental ordinance in place for several years. The draft proposal brought forth last year had been drafted by  Zachary Feury during his time in the Office of Community Development. Feury took a job with the state but was hired as a consultant by the city to review this latest iteration. 
 
Area residents have been renting out rooms and homes for years to accommodate the influx of artists, actors and musicians every summer, and the region is dotted with bed and breakfasts. But the advent of the internet and online bookers such as Airbnb and Vrbo has allowed not only the average homeowner to rent a room for a few weeks but made way for a growing investment market.
 
The city's been trying to find a way to register the rentals to ensure compliance with state safety and building codes — and consider the difference between outside investment and local homeowners. Lawmakers enacted legislation to tax these units but failed to provide guidance for municipalities on how to regulate them. 
 
Owners of short-term rental spaces objected to the city's proposed regulations as overly burdensome, saying they would have a negative economic effect on themselves as well as North Adams. The building inspector said he had to go by the state's building codes and the city's zoning laws.
 
The ordinance was reviewed by the Planning Board and City Council before being kicked to General Government to see if it could come up with language that would address the inspector's concerns on safety and enforcement but also not be an ordeal for property owners.
 
General Government, in turn, had recommended it back to the mayor's office in April as "unworkable." Since then, administration, inspections and Community Development, as well as Wilkinson, have met over the the months to try to hammer out a workable solution.
 
"I would hope since this won't be happening until later in September that you would take the opportunity to look at some of the other communities in Massachusetts," said resident Lois Daunais, who owns property on North Holden. "Looking at the language they have developed, created, discussed, etc., and add that into your to-do list prior to deciding to implement what was offered last time."
 
Barbara Alexander, who spoke on the short-term rental in July and at the Planning Board, said she has written an eight-page, detailed ordinance that she wanted to get into the public record. 
 
"It addresses the primary problem that I had with the July ordinance, which didn't have any implementation details," she said. "The problem I had expressed about it was that it was just very open-ended."
 
Wilkinson said she could submit it to the General Government through the city clerk's office and the committee could pass it along and Councilor Keith Bona said a councilor could put it on the agenda for the next meeting so it could be referred. 
 
"They're looking for any good ideas that they can have. So I'm sure they would be more than happy to review it," Wilkinson said.
 
Bona added that the committees and city employees had looked at other communities' regulations. 
 
"It's just trying to find that right balance, some communities seem to be having things that seem to conflict with possibly the state law," he said, adding he didn't think the process had been one-sided. "The hardest thing with the committee, with the council, and the building inspector, administration is how to do this with the current building codes that are the state building codes that are in place. That's been one of the biggest dilemmas."
 
The new ordinance is expected to be back before the council in September. The Planning Board and the City Council would have to hold a joint public hearing before voting on the measure.

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Mass MoCA, North Adams Seek Study on Downtown Connections

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Getting people from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to the downtown has been a goal since the museum opened more than two decades ago. 
 
But despite bringing in millions of dollars every year, the massive museum's ability to revive Main Street has been tepid at best. 
 
Now the city and museum are "thinking big" on a federal grant to see if they can make a connection that's frustrated past arts and community leaders for years. 
 
"I think you all are aware that it's not enough to just put up a sign that says downtown's that way in the hopes that a global audience will find their way there," said Jenny Wright, the museum's director of strategic communications and advancement. "There are actual physical and psychological barriers that put Mass MoCA on one side and downtown on the other side of the highway. We're bifurcated by infrastructure."
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