Members of Mashpee regulatory boards worry that more accessory apartments could lead to an increase and abuse of short-term rentals, rather than an increase in affordable and more diverse housing, at least without proper enforcement.
The Mashpee Board of Selectmen convened the town's regulatory boards on Monday, July 15, to discuss a wide range of topics including a proposed zoning bylaw amendment that would make it easier for homeowners to build accessory apartments. Instead of having to get a special permit from the zoning board of appeals, the amendment would allow a homeowner to build an apartment with simply a permit from the building inspector.
In an effort to encourage more year-round housing and discourage short-term seasonal apartments, the amendment would cap renting an accessory apartment for no less than one month.
A number of board members present Monday, including members of the Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals, said that enforcement was already a problem without this new bylaw and that the town currently does not have a mechanism to enforce it.
Town Planner Evan R. Lehrer has pushed for the inclusion of the accessory apartment bylaw amendment, arguing that Mashpee's lack of diverse housing has led to a lack of affordable housing for many residents.
The Cape Cod Commission has also shown data supporting the need for more diverse housing in the region, suggesting that Barnstable County has a high percentage of single-family homes compared to the rest of the state.
The town already has a bylaw in place to allow for accessory apartments, but the amendment proposed for Town Meeting would not only simplify the application process, but would also allow for detached apartments rather than requiring apartments to be connected to a main house, as the zoning code currently mandates. The amendment would also allow for two rooms in the apartment.
But on Monday, while no one objected to the overall amendment, concerns were raised that enforcement is already a problem.
Selectman chairman Andrew R. Gottlieb asked the town planner how these apartments would be enforced so the apartments would be rented for no less than a month. Mr. Lehrer said that either the building inspector or health agent would be the enforcing agent.
But zoning board member Ronald S. Bonvie said he asked the same question of the building inspector and was essentially told that enforcement was non-existent. The building inspector told the zoning board that he could take a case to court, but more often than not, the courts would find several reasons why the homeowner was in the right, Mr. Bonvie said.
Mr. Lehrer answered that a few homeowners might take advantage of the new bylaw, but that should not stop the town from helping to solve the bigger picture: affordable housing.
Mr. Gottlieb then responded that without proper enforcement, homeowners would be invited to break the rules and rent the new apartments out for the short term.