Will vacation rental regs be changed after packed hearing?
LAKE PLACID — “We probably should’ve done this five years ago, 10 years ago, but I don’t think that any of us realized how this industry was going to take off,” town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said Friday, the day after a packed public hearing on short-term rental regulations.
Nearly a week has passed since Thursday’s hearing, and government officials, local residents and vacation rental owners say the legislation is mostly solid, except for a few things — especially a three-night minimum.
Between 150 and 175 people showed up to the hearing, held by the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and the North Elba Town Council at the Conference Center. Politi said it was the biggest public turnout he’s seen since Walmart wanted to open a location in Lake Placid in the 1990s.
“I think the vast majority were for the regulations but against certain sections,” Politi said. “Most of the people there were against the three-day provision, but most everybody was for regulating.”
Politi said he doubts the proposed regulations will go to a vote as they are currently written, but exactly what would change is still up in the air.
“I’m only one of 10,” Politi said, “so I’m going to wait to hear what everyone else thinks.
In the past, the pool of people who owned the Lake Placid lodging industry was much smaller than it is today, and they were generally established on Main Street and Saranac Avenue, with a few bed-and-breakfasts throughout the town and village. But since the rise of short-term rentals — especially with online services such as Airbnb and VRBO — there are now hundreds of hospitality business owners here. Politi said the town has recognized about 650 short-term rental units, some of which are in residential neighborhoods.
“We have to consider the difference between residential and commercial,” Politi said. “I think that’s a big discussion nationwide. At what point is a residence a commercial property? If someone owns a property but they’re never here and all they do is rent it, is that a business, or is that a residence?”
Politi said there might be a point in the future where the town and village boards rework their zoning laws, possibly clustering short-term rentals to certain neighborhoods.
“I think it’s important that we have regulations regarding vacation rentals from a safety standpoint now, but I think that in the next five years, we’re going to need to look at the neighborhoods of this community and possibly redefine areas so that we can develop a situation where everyone is happy.”
Politi said there might not be a law that satisfies everyone.
“I think no matter what goes into place, both sides aren’t going to be happy, and maybe that’s a good thing,” he said.
Thursday night’s hearing only drew a few people who wholeheartedly supported the regulations. Reiterating something local resident Jim Shea said Thursday, Politi said, “A lot of local people don’t have the tendency to come out and talk about these kinds of things. They talk to you about it at the gas station and the grocery store and so forth, but they don’t like to come and speak at a podium in front of an audience, whereas the people who are in business and so forth, they don’t have any problem.”
Politi and other people have expressed their sentiments on how long-term residents and a sense of community seem to have diminished since short-term rentals started gaining popularity.
“I think about 75 percent of our tax bills that we send out go out of town,” Politi said. “That’s a huge change in recent years. We’re becoming more of a non-resident community. It has an effect on long-term housing, on young people in our community to buy places and stay here. It’s a challenge.”
Short-term rental owners
A group of short-term rental owners under the name Gold Medal Hospitality spoke at the hearing. Huda Scheidelman and Rudy Younger were two of those in the group. They both own rental units here and live full time in the Hudson Valley. Younger also owns Rudy’s 1 Of A Kind Vacation Rentals, which has multiple properties in Lake Placid.
In phone interviews Tuesday, they both agreed that the meeting went well, regulations are necessary and they’re interested in working with the town and village to find a reasonable code.
“Home rental does need to be regulated,” Scheidelman said. “All over the country, this is what towns are doing.”
Younger said he was impressed with 90 percent of the proposal document.
However, the two said some of the details and specific provisions need altering or clarifying: three-night minimum, 16-occupant maximum, fire exits.
“When you look at the three-night minimum, where is the data behind it?” Younger said. “We’d like to see some evidence or some conclusive data; otherwise you’re putting limits in place with no logic behind them.”
Scheidelman said the fire exit egress provisions should be looked at again. The proposal says, “Each sleeping room shall have an exterior exit that opens directly to the outside or an emergency escape or rescue window in compliance with the New York State Building Code.”
“Homes don’t have windows like that,” Scheidelman said. “Hotels don’t have windows like that. Why should rentals?”
Although permit fees aren’t in the proposal, the idea of $100 per bedroom per year has been suggested at previous board meetings. Younger said that price seems fair, but also expressed how $200 or $300 could be a lot for some who use their vacation rentals as a primary source of income.
“We have an opportunity to bring a lot of money into Lake Placid,” he said. “Why not use some of that to build a playground or finish the walkway around Mirror Lake, hire some more police officers?”
Younger also said most of the money made with a short-term rental goes back into the community.
“I estimate there’s $1 million going into housekeeping,” he said. “People are also paying property taxes, they’re buying tiling at Young Lyon, and shopping at Hannaford and Aubuchon.”
Sarah Galvin, who co-owns the Bookstore Plus, spoke at the hearing and was accompanied by a group of six locals who were pro-regulation. Galvin was born and raised in Lake Placid. She moved away for a few years in the early 2000s but now lives off of Hillcrest with her husband Marc.
“I think regulations are needed,” she said Tuesday. “Lake Placid is really late to the game, and they’re important to preserve our community.”
She also mentioned her concern for a lack of affordable housing and how it can limit the local workforce.
“I feel like when you go to Price Chopper and the person checking you out at the counter is driving from Malone, it means there isn’t enough local workforce to draw from,” she said. “We need to have people who can work in our stores, and police force and animal hospital. I don’t know how we can continue to host large events without a workforce.”
Like many of those who showed up Thursday, Galvin said her group generally disagreed with the three-night minimum as well. She also suggested an idea for permit fees, which are still to be determined.
“There should be different permitting fees and structures depending if it’s owner-occupied or not,” she said. “Two people who live across the street from us have an owner-occupied STR. One of the houses has regular turnover, but there is never really any problems.”
Galvin remains optimistic about a compromise on the regulations.
“If it doesn’t work, then we get together again and make it better,” she said, “but to simply not have something in place is not acceptable in this day and age.”
A 2018 study from Williams College titled “Do Airbnb properties affect house prices?” suggests Airbnbs tend to increase property values in New York City. North Elba Assessor Todd Anthony said it’s fair to say the same thing is occurring in Lake Placid.
“It’s absolutely true that (short-term rentals) affect residential home values,” he said. “Go back six or eight years on Hillcrest Avenue, and look at what has happened. Sales and assessments more than doubled in a five-year period — much is related to Airbnb.”
It is clear that many Hillcrest properties increased in value in the past year alone. The Essex County property details website shows the apartment building at 19 Hillcrest was assessed at $523,400 in 2017 and $606,100 in 2018. The one-family residence at 56 Hillcrest was assessed at $194,000 in 2017 and $375,900 in 2018. The home at 110 Hillcrest was assessed at $135,000 in 2017 and $245,000 in 2018.
It’s hard to say how much short-term rentals are the cause of those increases, though.
Anthony suggested that wages may be a bigger factor than vacation rentals in making housing unaffordable. The median household income in the village of Lake Placid was $60,801 in Lake Placid’s 12946 ZIP code, according to 2017 Census Bureau data. That’s higher than the $55,000 median of nearby Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake — and Essex County as a whole — but Anthony noted that it’s much lower than the $77,500 median in Saratoga County, another resort destination.
Anthony said he thinks the proposed regulations have more to do with comfortable living for current residents and less with attracting new ones.
“I think the limitations being discussed are to make living with the rentals in the neighborhood more livable,” he said. “We don’t need 15 cars in one driveway. The laws being discussed aren’t going to stifle the value of second and third homes.”