Town of Lenox fails its lodging industry
To the editor:
The short-term rental (STR) issue in Lenox needs clarification. Currently, the existing bylaw states that anyone wanting to rent rooms within their homes, in residential zones, is able to do so only between Memorial Day and Labor Day and on the weekends after that until Columbus Day with a permit and with an inspection. The town of Lenox isn't enforcing this rule or even letting its citizens know that this is the case. Hundreds of properties are out of compliance, in every neighborhood, except for the inns which operate legally, by special permit.
The proposed new bylaw was more permissive. It would have expanded the allowable rental period for renting rooms in a home to include the whole year. There was never a chance to discuss the new proposal at the town meeting.
About whole house, short-term rentals, two recent court cases in Massachusetts have disallowed these if the owner isn't living in the house. Lenox's Planning Board proposed allowing these during "the season" with a permit and inspection.
Lenox had the chance to act smartly, but took no action on any zoning changes. In contrast, the state of Massachusetts can only legislate taxation and building code, but not zoning. There was a lot of support for the proposed changes from property owners too polite to file written complaints about their neighbors, from innkeepers who want fairness, and others who would like to see Lenox regulate commercial activity in residential zones. Not many people understood the issues.
I propose that the town manager write a letter to the on-line platforms TODAY (Air BnB, Home Away, VRBO) and inform them of the current zoning laws: that no whole house rentals are allowed in Lenox if the owners are absent and that no rooms are allowed to be rented until the Memorial Day through Labor Day season and then, it's only allowed with a permit. Right now, properties listed on those sites without a permit are illegal.
The town has not supported its lodging industry and Brook Farm Inn has been affected considerably. Our last day of operating was Oct. 31. How can shops, galleries, inns and restaurants survive on just weekend tourism for almost eight months of the year?
The writer is the former innkeeper at Brook Farm Inn.
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