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Can Stockbridge survive if it keeps losing year-rounders? A fierce debate erupts over a zoning proposal aimed at balancing a 'distorted' housing market

Stockbridge view drone (copy)

A view of downtown Stockbridge from the air. The Select Board has tabled an accessory dwelling unit bylaw aimed at keeping the town affordable for young residents and seniors.

STOCKBRIDGE — What kind of town will Stockbridge be in the future?

That’s the vexing question behind a proposed zoning bylaw aimed at attracting more year-round young families and allowing seniors to afford staying in their homes.

But it won’t be answered at the upcoming annual town meeting; the plan was tabled earlier this month after a contentious Select Board meeting on the issue.

The bylaw was crafted by Town Counsel Donna Brewer as a way to bridge the gulf between permanent residents who could benefit from income generated by the rentals and part-time homeowners who would need to be in residence in order to rent an accessory dwelling by “owner-occupied” properties.

It’s meant to address the problem of a “housing market distorted by Tanglewood,” as Select Board Chairman Patrick White described it.

The proposal, which would need to be approved by the Select Board and then by two-thirds of town meeting voters, would allow a second unit on properties to be rented on a short- or long-term basis — as long as the primary house is owner-occupied. Only one rental at a time, not two, White emphasized, making local home ownership for full-time residents more affordable.

“This is a weird town,” he said, “because the rentals in the summer, even month to month, create a real distortion of the real estate market.” He also cautioned against “investor pressure” against the town’s housing stock.

The average home value in the town is around $644,000, according to the Zillow Home Values Index. A clear majority of the properties are held by part-time residents who live elsewhere for more than half the year, the Assessors Office has reported.

Making his case for limiting accessory units to owner-occupied properties, White insisted that “what we’re really not looking to do is to kind of blow up the real estate market due to the market distortions that Tanglewood creates for us. I’m not against second-home owners; I’m not against Tanglewood.”

But pushback from Select Board members Chuck Cardillo and Jamie Minacci forced White to once again shelve the proposal as still a work in progress.

“It needs a lot of further study,” Cardillo said. “I think we need a pause,” Minacci agreed.

But White, sounding exasperated, responded that “this is exactly why we’re not making changes that protect the character of our community. I’m happy to table this but what you’re witnessing now is exactly why not a single thing is getting done to fix the streets where the residents live.”

His voice rising, White cited statistics showing that for every 2.7 annual deaths in Stockbridge, there’s just one birth.

“We’ve got a job to do here, folks: to figure out if we’re still going to have a town here in five, or 10 or 20 years,” he said. “It’s our job.”

White, a candidate for reelection to a second term, was clearly taken aback by the lack of support from the other two members and from some townspeople.

He described his push for a town meeting vote on the proposal as “a challenge for residential ownership for young people to be able to afford being here and for elderly people to be able to stay in their homes.”

Part-time residents Patty Caya and Joseph Newberg questioned the bylaw plan as widening a rift between full-time residents and seasonal homeowners.

“Just define owner-occupied a little better so it doesn’t preclude second-home owners from participating even in long-term rentals,” Newberg said. “Don’t pretend it allows them when it doesn’t.”

Year-round resident Shelby Marshall declared that the real-estate market is being pushed toward seasonal residents, “and second-home owners think that’s dandy. But full-time homeowners do not, and the fact the market is doing that is unfair to people who want to live here full-time.”

Marshall argued that the year-rounders need to “protect the town from becoming another Provincetown. That’s not about being unfair to second-home owners,” he said. “That’s about being fair to full-time residents, actually giving them a chance to actually be full-time.”

He insisted that it’s critical not to allow seasonal residents to have accessory dwelling units. “I’d rather not even allow short-term rentals” unless somebody living in the house needs the additional income.

Year-rounder Matthew Chester, a supporter of White’s proposal, emphasized that it’s important not to conflate the short-term rental and the ADU issues. “We can’t regulate short-term rentals through an ADU bylaw,” he noted.

Chester proposed simply banning the rental of two housing units at a time on the same property.

Resident Paul Sundberg from the Interlaken neighborhood said two-thirds of his neighbors are seasonal residents but none of them rent out their houses.

“They’re just here to enjoy Stockbridge,” he said. “I just want to make sure the term second-home owners does not get used as a denigration of our friendly neighbors.”

White then sought to clarify that his concern is not with seasonal residents but with investors who buy up properties in order to rent them short-term as a business venture.

“It’s the investor-buyers, the owner-investors that really worry me,” he said. “My concern has nothing to do with second-home owners.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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