Planning Board to recommend STRs allowed in all districts

At a special called Planning Board work-session meeting Tuesday night, the board tried to put the finishing touches on the short-term rental ordinance they last worked on in December.

Except for a couple of items, the recommendations didn’t change. In a 6-1 vote the board voted to accept what they hammered out in December – mainly that STRs in some form would be allowed in every residential district.

Member Wendell Willard – who is basically against STRs in any form in any residential zone and who repeatedly suggested they were mainly in existence for the wedding industry – voted against the recommendations as a whole, but continued to offer opinions throughout the meeting.

According to the accepted document, STR uses depend on the type of accommodation – Lodging (less than 30 days), Temporary Guest Occupancy (less than 30 days), Whole House Short-term Rental (7-30 days), Tourist Home (owner stays on property), and Transient Dwelling (less than 7 days). In the R1 district, a Tourist Home is allowed but only 2 bedrooms; Transient Dwelling is not allowed; and a Whole House STR is allowed but Limited to a 14- day minimum.

Regarding this issue, the board decided not to strike a provision in the proposed amendment about incidental Whole House ST Rentals in R1 which they had struck in December. It says: no more than two such rentals in any calendar year where the total annual rental period for both rentals does not exceed two weeks.

So that would be one of the limitations in R1 for Whole House Rentals. Issues arose concerning the R2 district regarding permitted uses versus limited use and Special Use Permits for Transient Dwellings in that district. As it stands now, for R2, a Tourist Home is permitted as an accessory use; Transient Dwelling requires a SUP; Whole House STR is allowed but limited to a 14- day minimum.

Town Planner Michael Mathis said the town doesn’t want or need to require Special Use Permits for any STR use because if the use meets all the required criteria, it goes with the land so there is nothing “special” about it. “The board needs to either permit a use or limit a use and if limited then those limitations need to be outlined,” he said later.

The board got into the weeds regarding this issue so finalizing the SUP versus Permitted Transient Dwelling use was tabled until the Jan. 24 meeting. At one point the board discussed property owners having to get a permit each time they wanted to rent their home, but Mathis said that was not necessary either. Once issued a permit to be a STR – having met all the criteria – the property would be in the system so coming back to the town for “permission” wouldn’t be necessary. Every kind of STR is permitted in R3 and all the business districts in B1-B4.

Though Chairman Brad Armstrong said the topic wasn’t their purview, like last time the board got off on the vested interest (grandfathered) issue. Member Chris Wilkes said he had heard from both sides since the December meeting.

In November, Attorney Craig Justice informed the board that the amended ordinance concerning STRs would be in regards to future dealings and not current STRs. He said those currently using their homes in any residential district could continue and that the use follows the land not the owner.

If the house sells, as long as the new owner continues to rent it without lapsing 24 months, the use is grandfathered in. This has caused an outcry about a neighbor’s house being worth more than another if one is an STR and the other not.

“The biggest concern was going forward. The house next door would continue as an STR and that property value would go up while others would go down,” said member Chris Wilkes. “I just think the Town Board should be made aware of the concern among some owners of homes in the R1 district.”

He wondered if a limit of some kind could be put on the “grandfathered” aspect.

“Maybe the ‘vesting’ period should be considered and should be the same for all in all the districts,” he said.

Again, Armstrong and others said “vesting” was a legal issue and has nothing to do with the Planning Board.

“We have no legal authority to discuss it,” said member Nick McCall.

To get an STR permit, the limits per district must be adhered to; the property must meet the bedroom/bath ratio for septic; two people per bedroom plus two; no more than 12 people regardless of the number of bedrooms if more than five; one off-street parking space is required per bedroom; renter must sign a document acknowledging rules and regulations; there must be a posted 24/7 contact person; and the property must be inspected by the fire inspector.

The board also discussed the suspension of rights to rent for repeat offenders – those who do nothing about trash, noise or other violations — so the ordinance would have some teeth in it.

Though Armstrong said again the board was there to give directional advice and there were others better suited to deal with that, Willard proposed after three violations in a 12-month period, the owner would not be allowed to rent for six months and the board agreed. The board agreed to leave the current ordinance as it is concerning non-related members living in a house noting that businesses use properties to house employees. It stands now at five.

At the regular open Jan. 24 meeting, final touches will be put on the ordinance before sending it to the Town Board.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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