Highlands Planning Board finalizes STR ordinance

At Tuesday night’s special Planning Board meeting, the board put the finishing touches on the proposed ordinance it hammered out on Aug. 2 with a vote of 4-1.  Member Wendall Willard again dissented.

The gist: The use of housing as Transient Dwelling Lodging (TDL), where a dwelling is used for less than seven days, will be allowed in R1 and R2 for one year until contracts already in the pipeline are satisfied. After a year, or more depending on what the Town Board decides, TDLs in the R1 and R2 districts will cease for ever more but will be allowed to continue in R3 and all the business zones.

And, short-term rentals (STRs) considered TDLs, will continue to be allowed in R1 and R2 but for a minimum of seven days.

Vice Chair Helene Siegel who initially wanted a minimum of 14 days in R1 and R2 agreed to the seven days as a step forward, seeing it as a way to level the playing field for those who may want to get into the STR game or for those who may want the ability to do so if they or future owners of their property choose to do so.

This way no one’s property is worth more than someone else’s due to STR potential, she said.

Willard asked what the compromise was. He believes renters will pay for seven days but only use it two or three, which is where the problem lies, he said.

“We aren’t making much of a change concerning what is currently going on in town regarding short-term rentals,” he said. “The overriding issue is we have STRs in neighborhoods which fracture the neighborhood. You don’t go next door to borrow a cup of sugar from an STR. It’s now a separate entity in the neighborhood that’s not part of the overall community of it.”

Whatley reminded him that the history of short-term renting in Highlands during the summer and the season has been the norm for decades.

“This is a compromise to try to fix this,” said Chairman Darren Whatley. “Personally, I think this is a compromise because of all the people who have contacted us about being told they could buy and short-term rent, it seems like we are meeting people half-way or making the recommendation to the council that they consider that.”

Willard persisted saying a lengthier time would eliminate this two-night, three-night situation. “That’s what I see as being a neighborhood issue,” he said.

“It’s a really tricky question and it’s a difficult to try to make a recommendation because people have the right to use their property as they want to use it,” said Whatley. “I understand people being impacted by this, but people have to use the zoning ordinance in Highlands and if there is a problem, they need to complain about parking violations, trash …”

Despite comments to the contrary, member Nick McCall reminded members that the Planning Board is doing exactly what was suggested in the Comprehensive Community Plan which was to curtail TDLs in the R1 district.

“We are limiting TDLs in the R1 district in that they cease to exist after a certain date, so we are honoring what was suggested in the Community Plan,” he said.

Siegel said the point is to focus on enforcement as member Chris Wilkes said Aug. 2 and seven days was a compromise between the 14 days and nothing, she said. 

“Yeah, seven days still makes sense to me,” said Wilkes.

But Willard said he wants to crawl back the growth of STRs in the town.

“I still have concerns that people will say weekly but use it for three days.”

Siegel said she understood his point.

“Yes, you want to stop the trajectory. And 14 days would do that, but it was voted down,” said Siegel.

Whatley reminded members that the Planning Board is strictly making a recommendation. 

“The Town Board can take it or come up with something of their own,” he said. “But allowing seven days in R1 and R2 makes sense to me.”

Willard said he will write a minority report on his stance regarding the timeframe of a minimum of seven days in R1 and R2.

Meanwhile the town has posted the public hearing notice for Aug. 25 at 5 p.m. in the Community Building.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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