OTIS — A capacity crowd at Town Meeting approved a short-term rental bylaw, rejected the Community Preservation Act and voted to take no action on the $4.5 million Town Hall annex proposed by selectmen.

The short-term rental bylaw, which required two-thirds support, was the only vote close enough to need a hand count. The proposed regulations passed 127-47. The bylaw requires property owners who rent to vacationers, including those who use platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO, to register their properties with the town, have them inspected and pay fees. In most cases, Otis residents with short-term rental properties will have to have them inspected, and pay the $500 fee, just once. Out-of-towners and corporations that own properties in Otis will require annual inspections, and annual $500 fees.

Mary Kay Pinkham said she welcomes the new rules, especially since there are no restrictions on short-term rentals in town bylaws now. She said she manages two properties rented through Airbnb. She also lives near three others.

“It’s very frustrating when the Airbnbs that are managed not close by don’t follow the rules, and I think this plan is a way to at least start regulating what’s going on,” she said. “I do have parties next door. We have had septic issues. The speeding of the people on the road. I think we need to start with something in place so we do have some guidelines. … If we find something’s not working, we can amend it. But we need something in place to regulate what’s going on.”

Some opponents of the bylaw balked at the $500 fee, which is higher than in neighboring towns. Proponents responded that unlike in other towns, the Otis fees are paid just once, not annually, at least by town residents.

Planning Board member Rona Knight said she would have liked to see the bylaw explicitly forbid renting to groups without any person over 18.

Town officials said the proposed bylaw had been through two years of Planning Board deliberations and public hearings, but some voters at Town Meeting said they still had unanswered questions about it.

“I don’t think the regulation is clear,” said Donald Truax of East Otis. “I don’t think we should pass something that needs to be amended down the line.”

Building Inspector Larry Gould characterized the rate structure as a way to pay for the inspections without placing too much burden on Otis residents. Most of the fees would be paid by out-of-town property investors, he said.

“What we want is for people who have a home, and if you go away six months a year, we want you to be able to rent it and make some of that income back,” Gould said, but “we want to try to limit the corporate owners” who have been buying properties and who don’t care about the quality of their renters as much as town residents do.

CPA vote fails

A citizen petition to adopt the Community Preservation Act, a 1% surcharge on local property taxes that also qualifies the town for state matching funds, was defeated in a voice vote.

Diane Provenz said the state has distributed $1 billion to CPA towns over the past two decades, and none of it has gone to Otis. She said there are 196 communities that have voted to participate in the CPA, and no town has ever withdrawn after opting in.

CPA funds would be deposited in a special account, separate from the general town budget, overseen by a new town committee. The funds can only be spent on capital projects, and only in four categories: affordable housing, historical preservation, open space conservation or recreation.

Affordable housing is “something we desperately need in Otis,” Provenz said. She also pointed to how Becket has used its CPA funds, building a 2.1-mile hiking trail and making renovations to several public buildings.

Bill Hiller called the CPA “an additional tax.” Selectman Larry Southard also voiced opposition to the proposal, saying the state puts conditions on how CPA funds can be spent, and Otis might not be able to build projects the way it wants if it used CPA money.

If the CPA article had passed at Town Meeting, the matter would have been brought to a ballot vote in November.

The meeting also approved a fiscal year 2025 town budget of $6.7 million; a $150,000 expense for design work on a new library, contingent on receiving a state grant to cover construction; $200,000 of restoration work at the East Otis Schoolhouse, contingent on receiving a state grant for half that amount; and demolition of a town-owned structure at 45 N. Ridge St., to be replaced by a lawn.

There were 225 voters registered to participate in the meeting, and several attendees from out of town. Every chair in the community room at Otis Town Hall was occupied, and standing voters lined the walls and bunched in the doorways. The meeting began while voters were still lined up in the hallway, because the building had reached its fire code capacity.