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LP residents to mobilize against short-term rentals

LP residents to mobilize against short-term rentals

LAKE PLACID — It started with a feeling of unrest on Hillcrest Avenue.

This past summer, when the Lake Placid Village Board and North Elba Town Council hosted a public hearing on draft short-term vacation rental regulations, Heidi Roland found herself leaving the meeting feeling unsettled.

Residents like Roland, who have lived in this community’s historic residential neighborhoods for decades, describe watching as the landscape changed around them.

“When our kids were growing up in that neighborhood, there were probably, as I remember it, 10 or 12 boys that could all play together and they didn’t have to cross the street to get to each others’ houses,” she said. “That doesn’t quite exist in the same way.”

When many of these residents first moved in, they were young people with kids, according to Wayne Johnston, a longtime resident and co-owner of the Ruthie’s Run clothing store. He and his wife took care of their elderly neighbors. Now, they’re the “old farts,” Johnston said, and there aren’t any young people taking their place.

Where once there would be hundreds of knocks on their doors on Halloween, and locals had to arm themselves with dozens of bags of candy, according to resident Sheila Tavares, now they’re lucky if two kids stop by.

In the place of children’s laughter, neighbors describe a roving cast of visitors on vacation. At the same time, residents of Hillcrest say their property assessments have skyrocketed.

After the last public hearing, Heidi Roland and her husband Peter got together with some of their neighbors on Hillcrest to talk about their experiences — and what could be done to protect their neighborhood from being further diminished by what they see as hotels operating in single-family houses. That group has since grown to include long-term residents from other neighborhoods around the village, and in the town of North Elba.

These residents are now mobilizing.

Shoring up support

As tourists milled around Main Street below, in the community room at St. Eustace Episcopal Church Wednesday night, neighbors calling themselves Residents for a Sustainable Community outlined their concerns with the latest draft of the proposed short-term rental law and formulated a plan.

This group encompasses people with many different viewpoints on both short-term vacation rentals, and what consultants hired to study Lake Placid’s housing stock have described as a “workforce housing crisis.”

Not everyone agreed that those two things are linked. But the group is united behind a single concern: “that our community is being seriously and irreparably damaged by the conversion of residential housing into commercial enterprises,” the group’s mission statement says.

In advance of the upcoming public hearing Feb. 25 on the town and village’s latest draft regulations, members of the group have kickstarted a letter-writing campaign. The group has released a letter template on social media, and they’re encouraging anyone who supports their mission to submit written comments to local elected officials.

They’re also piecing together a strategy to encourage others — whether residents, people who have had trouble finding housing in Lake Placid or people who have been impacted by short-term vacation rentals — to attend the public hearing at 6 p.m. in the Lake Placid Conference Center. According to village Attorney Janet Bliss, the deadline for both written and verbal comments on the proposed law will be Feb. 25.

“The most important thing is that our voices be heard in numbers,” Heidi Roland said.

This version of the village and town’s joint law would require those who rent out their properties on sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway to apply for and secure a permit. It would also require rental owners to limit the number of visitors who stay on site, and ensure there’s adequate off-street parking and septic capacity to serve those visitors. Among the biggest changes in this version of the law: Town and village officials have differentiated between short-term rentals that are “owner-occupied” and those that aren’t. People who live on their property for “at least 275 days per calendar year” and are “on premises from 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the term of each rental” would still be required to obtain a permit prior to listing their property, but they would not have to adhere to a proposed maximum 90-day-per-calendar-year rental period.

“Although we might disagree on some of the intricacies of it, I think that we all agree about the big picture,” resident Trish Friedlander said. “I think it’s important to make it really clear to both boards … ‘this is what we want.'”

Multi-pronged approach

As they encourage residents to speak up, members of the group have also been meeting with local officials, attorneys and experts. They’ve been doing research, filing grievances against properties they believe are violating the existing land-use code, and piecing together alternatives to the proposed regulations.

According to Peter Roland, the group has submitted some of this information to the North Elba Town Council, the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees, the North Elba-Lake Placid Joint Review Board, the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission, and the town Building & Planning Department. Their recommendations have primarily included proposed alterations to the town and villages’ land-use code, based on what other communities have adopted.

“It’s been our position all along that the land-use code, as written, is not capable of addressing these (short-term vacation rental) uses and that needs to be changed, and that it should be done simultaneously to this discussion that’s going on about permitting,” he said. “Everybody in the country is doing this. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, here. We just have to look at a menu and say, ‘That would work for us.'”

Whatever happens after the public hearing, the group is already preparing to take further action. As their meeting wound down Wednesday night, residents were planning for what they may be able to do to let tourists know how they feel.