The short term rental issue is at the forefront of discussion in Highlands. For that matter it is a contentious topic in communities across the nation. There are no simple solutions or answers.
On Aug. 19, the town board held their monthly meeting by way of ZOOM. I, along with other board members, decided to return to Zoom meetings because of an outbreak of the COVID Delta Variant at town hall. The decision was not to exclude anyone from the meeting but out of a sense of caution.
At the public comment period of the meeting, we heard many comments concerning short term rentals. The board listened to folks with differing points of view for an hour. Everyone who wanted to comment had the opportunity.
The agenda for the meeting was long. The last item was a closed session where the town attorney advised the board on options concerning the issue of short term rentals. A home owners’ group had submitted a legal argument that contended short term rentals were not allowed in R1 zones. Our town attorney gave his legal opinion on that claim, and advised the board on other issues related to short term rentals. In question were the residential zones.
Short term rentals are allowed in business zones.
As we approached 10:55 p.m., our town manager informed the board that we had only five minutes of ZOOM time left. The staff had bought four hours of zoom time for several hundred participants. With time running out, the board voted to come out of closed session. Out of closed session the board voted to recess the meeting and then continue the meeting by way of ZOOM on Aug. 24 at 3 p.m.
The session on Tuesday was not a new meeting. It was a continuation of the monthly meeting that had been started on Thursday, August 19. The agenda was simply a continuation of the agenda that had been approved earlier in the meeting.
No changes to the existing ordinances were made. The town attorney gave his assessment of short term rentals in residential zones. In short, he indicated that under current ordinances they are not permitted in R1, and that there are concerns about their legality in R2 and R3. The consensus of the board was to begin enforcement of current residential ordinances starting on January 3, 2022.
I, along with the board members, I have received a large number of emails concerning the STR issue, both for and against. Many folks feel we do not understand all the positions. In previous meetings the board has heard from the public and held discussions concerning STRs. I believe the board understands the pros and cons. The board and staff have considered both sides, examined what other towns have done, and consulted with experts. This process will continue.
I normally try to respond to emails. There were so many emails with differing points of view. I decided to read all the emails, but not respond individually. Board members and I appreciate the citizen feedback on this important issue.
Any final decision concerning enforcement of short term rentals will not be well received by everyone. Legal action has already been implied by one faction or another. I accept and understand citizens options to seek legal recourse. I, along with members of the town board, will strive to make decisions that are legally sound. A review process may continue for months to come.
I hold on to the belief and hope that regardless of the side the board takes, everyone understands that it will be about the long term interest of Highlands.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor