The owner of 6 Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, the building that houses the Cardboard Box and 02557 Oyster Bar, will seek a change in its Regional Impact Development (DRI) after a tense row with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Thursday night over whether renting units in the five-story building as a short-term rental on Airbnb violated previous commission terms.
Building owner Adam Cummings addressed the committee at its Zoom meeting on Thursday evening. He said he was renting units on Airbnb, but had every right to do so.
“We haven’t been hiding what we’re doing,” Cummings said. “We think we’re in line with what we said we were going to do when we got there. “
Commissioner Douglas Sederholm, who headed the commission of inquiry into the violations, briefed the commission on the history of the problem and the violations.
The problem dates back to May, when Mark Leonard sent a letter to the Oak Bluffs Construction Department concerned about the construction units offered on Airbnb. Unit rates were offered up to $ 750 a night during the busy summer months. Airbnb reviews for units date back to 2019.
DRI commission coordinator Alex Elvin said commission communications began in July, when Cummings met with commission staff. Without a response, the commission sent a letter in August outlining the conditions of the building.
“There has been essentially no response to this. There was also no response to our emails in September, so we followed up with the compliance committee, ”Elvin said.
The commission’s decision, taken in 2017 and amended in 2018, states that annual rental documentation is required to prove that the residential units are “used by Island employees”, that the building must be heated throughout. year so that “labor housing” can be provided to workers, and this compliance will be enforced by the Oak Bluffs Construction and Zoning Officer.
“As proposed by the applicant, the units will be rented out to employees of local businesses either as permanent accommodation throughout the year or as temporary accommodation as needed,” says the decision.
Cummings said the wording of the conditions described the housing “as needed” and the intention was workforce housing – seven of which are open year-round and three are vacant.
He also disagreed with the commission’s timeline of events, which drew sharp criticism from the commission’s executive director, Adam Turner.
“We have tried to work with you. I mean stop, stop, ”Turner told Cummings. “We have tried to work with you, we always will.”
Commission staff and several commissioners said Cummings was not in compliance.
Commissioner Fred Hancock said Cummings had come to the commission to change the building from a nightclub, formerly the Lampost, and hotel rooms to affordable rentable units for mainstream housing. of work.
“It was not a mitigation of affordable housing,” Hancock said. “It was their business plan.”
Hancock also said the time to talk about it was the summer, when the commission initially informed Cummings of the violations.
“What we take away from that is that you weren’t interested in doing anything other than what you were doing,” Hancock said. “I think you can understand from our point of view, this is not acceptable.”
Additionally, Sederholm said Cummings failed to provide the required annual rental documents.
Cummings reiterated that he was within his rights and was an open book, claiming he spoke to Airbnbs commission staff and was entitled to rent short-term rentals.
“I understand your position that you think the whole building should be housing for the workforce, we have the opposite position because we phrased it that way,” Cummings said.
Sederholm said there was a difference of opinion on what “as needed” means under the terms.
“It seems to me that means that if there are workers on this island who need housing, it should be available to them,” Sederholm said.
Cummings said he was not aware of Thursday’s meeting until he saw the Times article Thursday that the commission was considering legal action against him. He also claimed that The Times rented a room in his apartment building, which is not true.
“We have never rented an Airbnb from Mr. Cummings. Any suggestion on his part that we have made is hyperbole, ”Times editor-in-chief George Brennan said on Friday. “We contacted his host on the Airbnb site on Thursday as part of our due diligence reporting the allegations against him. The host referred our reporter to him and he didn’t respond until Thursday’s meeting.
Cummings also said the Times “got wind of the problem” and commission members “got around it”, instead of contacting him directly. Members of the commission denied this and so did the Times. The possible litigation against Cummings was put on the committee’s agenda for Thursday night and the Times requested copies of the committee’s emails sent to Cummings via a request for public documents, which were later released. on the commission’s website.
Commissioner Jim Vercruysse said that the ultimate obligation lies with the applicant to comply with the conditions.
“We don’t want to be police officers. It was pretty clear to me what was supposed to happen and it’s not happening, ”he said.
“If you are compliant, you are compliant. If you’re not, you aren’t, ”said Commissioner Christine Todd. “Obviously, it looks like we disagree, so we’ll take the next step. “
Commissioners asked why this issue had only just emerged, given that the project was approved in 2017 and the initial complaint about Airbnb units was filed in May.
“What do we have in place that is forcing everyone to do it?” Todd said.
After reading the email, Commissioner Ted Rosbeck said he saw no attempt to hide Airbnb rentals.
“There doesn’t seem to be any denial of what’s going on,” Rosbeck said. “I think they’re just asking for a change, maybe just give them a deadline to do it.”
“They didn’t recognize that they were renting them out on the open market,” Sederholm replied. “They didn’t deny it, but they didn’t say ‘yes, this is what we are doing.'”
Hancock suggested that the commission’s legal counsel initiate proceedings.
“This claimant has shown no remorse in what he is doing and plans to continue doing it,” Hancock said. “At the very least what we have to do is say no, you can’t continue to rent this property out to anyone who shows up with a fist full of money.”
Sederholm said it was best to decide legal issues in an executive session.
The committee voted to give Cummings 30 days to submit a proposed change. Cummings said it will temporarily stop taking new bookings, but will not cancel bookings already made.
In an email to the committee ahead of the meeting, Cummings’ attorney Geoghan Coogan asked any commissioners who own properties, Airbnbs or restaurants in Oak Bluffs to step down from the discussion. Commissioner Brian Packish left the discussion and the vote, but for different reasons.
“I spoke as an applicant directly with this applicant on how to overcome the challenges of housing mitigation costs,” he said.
In the remaining cases, the committee reappointed commissioners Joan Malkin, Jim Vercruysse and Ernie Thomas respectively as chairman, vice-chairman and treasurer.