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North Elba OKs vacation rental rules

Lake Placid village board hasn’t decided yet, set to discuss Monday

Donna Morris-Calvey, a short-term rental owner, speaks to the North Elba Town Council and Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees during a public hearing on proposed short-term vacation rental regulations Feb. 25 at the Conference Center in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — Short-term rental regulations are moving forward.

In a watershed moment, the North Elba Town Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to adopt a long-debated local law regulating short-term vacation rentals. The joint legislation, which would set rules for the Adirondack Park’s busiest tourist destination, is expected to go before the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees for a possible vote Monday.

If adopted by the village board, the law would go into effect after it’s filed with the state.

It would require those who rent out their properties on sites such as Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway to get permits. It would also require them 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.

The version of the law the town voted on Tuesday was altered in several ways from the version that the public weighed in on at the latest public hearing.

For one thing, a controversial measure that differentiates between short-term rentals that are “owner-occupied” and those that aren’t was modified. It would have allowed rental owners who live on their property for “at least 275 days per calendar year” — and who are on premises from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the term of each rental — to skirt a maximum 90-day-per-calendar-year rental period. Now the law says people who live in their rental for at least 184 days per year don’t have to adhere to the 90-day maximum occupancy limit, according to North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand.

Also, whereas the February version of the law would have eliminated “rooming/boarding house” as a conditional use possibility in the land use code, the latest version would keep the conditional use but alter the definition of “boarding house” to include only “owner-occupied” buildings that are rented out, according to Rand.

The law also adds more areas where rentals are exempt from the 90-day occupancy limit. In the February version of the law, rentals located in the “village center district” along Main Street, between the post office and Brewster Park were exempt. That was extended to include rentals along Wilmington Road, Cascade Road and Saranac Avenue, which are all parts of state Route 86.

Local officials are only required by law to hold another public hearing on a law if the changes to the law are deemed “substantial.” These changes were not deemed so.

Long road

The town council’s decision comes after years of debate — and three public hearings on different versions of the law in the last 13 months, the latest one hosted 15 days ago at the Conference Center. Collectively, those public hearings drew more than 500 attendees and 125 speakers.

“We’ve really taken this to heart,” Rand said Tuesday. “But right now, I think we all feel we really need to get a basis to work from. Otherwise, it’s just going to continue to fester and grow worse.”

The vacation rental industry in Lake Placid has grown rapidly in the last four years alone. In the last part of 2016, 285 short-term rentals listed on Airbnb and Vrbo had Lake Placid addresses, according to AirDNA, a website that aggregates data from those websites. The market grew to at least 821 short-term rentals last year — not including those rented through local real estate agencies or on websites other than Airbnb and Vrbo — before falling to 667 active rentals as of Wednesday.

Many locals see a direct link between short-term vacation rentals and what consultants hired to study Lake Placid’s housing market have described as its “workforce housing crisis.” The lack of affordable housing is touching nearly every part of the community, from the local school district’s enrollment to the ability of local business owners to recruit and retain staff, who often struggle to find a place to live. A recent housing needs assessment by consulting firm Camoin310 pointed to short-term vacation rentals not as a cause of this housing crisis, but a factor that’s exacerbating the severity of it.

First step

The town council voted to adopt the vacation rental regulations on Tuesday despite speakers at the most recent public hearing on the law, on both sides of the issue, taking issue with the legislation as proposed. Most short-term rental owners spoke against a provision that imposes a 90-day occupancy cap, and a requirement that they be present between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the term of each rental.

Other speakers asked the town and village to forgo adopting the law at all, arguing that doing so would legalize rentals in residential neighborhoods. They read the current land use code as saying residential-zoned areas do not allow commercial enterprises unless the owner obtains a conditional use permit — and they consider short-term rentals commercial.

Also, some have said the rules do not include a cap or moratorium to directly address the sheer number of rentals.

“We need to get something in the books as a base so we can continue to move forward for both the town and the village,” Rand said.

Town Councilwoman Emily Politi said she sees this vote as a first step.

“I see this as step one, and the next steps will be rewriting the land use code,” she said. “It’s become evident that there is some really missing, lacking definitions, pieces and a lot of other things in our land use code and it’s time to update it, make it stronger and more enforceable.

“This whole process has highlighted some significant flaws that were unintended, but they’re there, and they need to be fixed.

“My other next step, for me, would be to start a discussion about a cap or a moratorium.”

Rental owners,

residents react

Donna Morris-Calvey, a Malta resident who co-owns the High Peaks House on Elm Street in Lake Placid with her husband, said they support short-term rental regulations.

“However, we oppose the current version because it will harm our friendly resort town if they don’t amend it,” she said in an email. “Instead of neighbors looking out for each other, community members will be spying on each other. Some will use the new law as a legal means to harass caretakers and visitors with false complaints requiring immediate visit to the house.”

Morris-Calvey said someone called on Wednesday claiming that she was hosting more than 30 guests at the High Peaks House.

“In fact, we currently have the broadcast crew comprised of 17 people staying in our nine-bedroom house for the U.S. Collegiate Ski & Snowboard National Championships held March 8-14th,” she wrote.

Karen Huttlinger, a longtime resident, audibly sighed Wednesday when she heard how the town council had voted.

“We have a land use code that took a lot of work,” she said. “Why are we not abiding by the land use code? There are good parts of this law, but I’m afraid it’s going to legitimize the illegal rentals.”

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