Published in the May 31, 2017 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
Lynnfieldians officially observed the Memorial Day weekend with the reverence it rightly deserves to honor the ultimate sacrifices of men and women lost in military service, past and present, protecting our freedoms.
This past weekend, however, also marked an unheralded anniversary. It was the one-year anniversary of the unsolved murder of 33-year-old Keivan Heath right here in our own backyard.
Somehow, more than 365 days and nights have passed us by without any resolution as to how or why Heath was shot to death in the presence of an estimated 100 or more partiers at what has been characterized as a college reunion party gone out of control in the wee hours of the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend 2016.
While there has been plenty of ink dedicated to the fact that Alex Styller’s gated mansion at 8 Needham Rd. had been rented out for the long weekend to the hosts through an Internet site called HomeAway – which the town claims was a violation of its zoning bylaws for essentially operating a commercial enterprise in a single family zoning district – incredibly few words have been dedicated to the criminal act that snuffed out the life of the father of two young children.
Locally, the town immediately issued Styller a cease and desist order; he appealed to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals and, after being dissatisfied with the ZBA’s decision, he is now taking the town to court in the hopes of maintaining what he believes is his right to continue renting out his home for a few days to a few weeks or more. Last week, the Board of Selectmen held an executive session to discuss their litigation strategy related to this specific case.
For its part, the town set about adopting a zoning bylaw at last October’s Town Meeting to outlaw rentals of single family homes for fewer than 30 days at a time. It passed.
Beyond the town’s borders, this case has set off a firestorm over whether it’s possible or legal or even worthwhile to regulate this type of commerce that became popular through sites like Airbnb. It’s a disruption to the way such things have been done in the past in the same way that Uber made investments in taxi medallions virtually worthless overnight.
Now, in the June 2017 edition of “Boston Magazine,” a lengthy story entitled “How an unsolved murder in Lynnfield sparked a war over Airbnb,” recounts Heath’s last night on earth.
Interspersed between interviews with a friend who attended the party with Heath and the man’s grieving mother – who believes the town is more interested in banning short-term rentals than finding her son’s killer – Styller lays out his case for his right to maintain the status quo when his case goes before the Land Court judge.
Lynnfield Police Chief David Breen is even given a cameo in the story. He is quoted as saying: “I’ve never had a case that had so many witnesses who either refuse to identify themselves or refuse to cooperate. It’s extremely frustrating.”
For the sake of justice and closure for Heath’s family, let’s hope that by next Memorial Day we are not marking the second anniversary of an unsolved, senseless murder.