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Navigating Pool Rules and Regulations on Nantucket

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Spencer Heydt
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The demand for residential pools on Nantucket has sky-rocketed, and because of this, we are seeing a shift. Lack of a pool, or the potential for one, is often a deal-breaker for renters as well as prospective buyers. Additionally, the inclusion of a pool on a property’s list of amenities dramatically increases rental rates and saleability, further driving demand. Due to this increased popularity and the divisive opinions surrounding pools, it seems that more restrictive measures are brought to the table and voted on during Town Meeting every year. Recently, some bylaw amendments have been adopted that regulate the approval of residential pools even further, making it evident that this hot topic is not going away. A few different governing parties are involved in the approval process, and they each have their own set of conditions that need to be met in order for a pool to be approved. 

The Building & Zoning Department, The Historic District Commission (HDC), and The Conservation Committee (ConCom) are the four governing parties participating in the process. Every pool application needs to be approved by the HDC, and it needs to meet the Zoning rules and regulations. In addition, if the proposed pool is within 100 feet of a Wetland Buffer, ConCom needs to sign off on it. Once these approvals are received, a building permit can be issued and the construction can commence. 

To learn more about the rules and regulations around pools, along with the amended bylaws, keep on reading.

Zoning Conditions

Pools, which by definition are 24 inches in depth and exceed 150 square feet of water surface area, or exceed 1,000 gallons, are currently allowed in all districts except ROH/SOH and CI, subject to lot line setbacks and Historic District Commission (HDC) approval. However, In June 2021, some further restrictions were adopted: 

In the R-1, SR-1, R-5, and R-5L districts only, the following criteria must be
met: (1) a minimum lot size of 7,500 sq ft is required, and (2) side and rear yard setbacks of 10 feet shall apply to the residential swimming pool and associated mechanical equipment. This requirement shall apply to residential swimming pools for which a building permit is issued after September 30, 2021. 

Another caveat to point out is that although allowable, a Special Permit is required in the V-R and the MMD Residential Zones:

In the VR District only, the Zoning Board of Appeals may grant a special permit to allow a residential swimming pool on a lot, subject to the following criteria being met: (1) the lot has to be a minimum of 20,000 sq ft, and (2) the pool and associated equipment are subject to a 20 ft setback from the side and rear lot lines.

As it relates to zoning setbacks, setbacks go to the water’s edge, assuming the associated hardscape doesn’t rise to the level of structure.

Pools must be 10 ft from a septic system and at least 20 ft from the leaching field; and interestingly, the distance from a pool to a structure is not regulated.

Nantucket Island Zoning Map

Zoning Use Chart

2022 Town Meeting

There were several articles brought to the table and voted on which aimed to further restrict the approval of pools and hot tubs in some districts. The Planning Board did not endorse any of them but below were the outcomes.

1) Article 54 was adopted which prohibits hot tubs in Town’s Old Historic and Sconset’s Old Historic districts. *Note-pools are already prohibited in the historic districts.

2) Article 55 was not adopted which would have reduced the allowed surface area of hot tubs, in all zones, from 150 square feet to 64 square feet, and limit their volume to 1,000 gallons.

3) Article 56 was not adopted which would have eliminated the minimum lot size of 7,500 square feet and setback requirements for swimming pools in some small-lot residential zoning districts outside the old historic districts(R-1/SR-1 & R-5/SR-5).

4) Article 57 was not adopted which would have reduced the minimum lot size for a pool in the aforementioned districts from 7,500 to 6,000 square feet.

ConCom Conditions

In addition to zoning regulations, if there are wetlands involved, the Conservation Committee has its own set of conditions that must be met for a pool to be approved. This committee aims to protect the natural resources that Nantucket is blessed to have. The foundation of their conditions is that any structure (including pools) must be at least 50 feet from any protected resource. If that condition is met, then the below items are required. There may be additional conditions that must be met, but at a minimum, the below is typically required. Anything beyond the 100 foot buffer is beyond ConCom’s jurisdiction.

⚪ The pool shall not be drained or discharged into an area within the jurisdiction of the Commission.

⚪ The pool shall not be chemically treated between November 1st and May 1st.

⚪ All chemical treatments shall stop three weeks prior to any draining or discharging of the pool.

⚪ All lighting shall be directed downwards and away from the resource area.

⚪ The applicant shall provide the contact information for the company maintaining the pool.  The pool company shall provide 48-hour notice of any draining to the commission with a plan showing where the pool shall be drained to.

ConCom Wetland Protection Regulations

Permitting Process

As an overview, you will always need to get HDC approval for a pool. In addition to that, you will also need to obtain a building permit. The two other approvals that you might need are a special permit from the zoning board if you are in the VR or MMD Zone, and lastly, if you are attempting to put a pool between the 50 ft and 100 ft wetland buffer, you will need ConCom approval.

Detailed Permit Process

Fencing & Pool Cover Requirements

All pools in Massachusetts must be enclosed in a protective barrier (fence) at least four feet high. Any gates must have a locking device at least four feet from the ground, open outward away from the swimming pool, and must be self-closing. Additionally, if a door to your home opens into the swimming pool enclosure, state law requires an alarm on that door.

In 2015, an exception was made that allowed automatic pool covers to be used in place of a fence; see the documentation linked here.

Written By

Spencer Heydt

Spencer brings to her real estate clients a thorough understanding of seasonal and year-round lifestyles. Spencer appreciates not only the rare and rich life of the island, but also the incredible investment potential that its real estate affords.