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Villagers share different views on short-term rental regulation

Saranac Lake buys STRl data software, waits on outreach, enforcement services

Jeff Murray of Saranac Lake tells the village board he rents out the bottom floor of his home as a short-term rental to make ends meet. He asked the board to not make STR permits too expensive for people like him. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — The official public input session on the village’s plan to regulate short-term rentals is not until tonight, but at Monday’s village board meeting several villagers showed up to comment on the proposed permit system, taking different stances on the issue.

Callie Shelton of Saranac Lake said she is a STR owner and asked the board to postpone its vote on purchasing the STR-tracking software Rentalscape.

“Unless and until we know what the problem actually is, we shouldn’t be coming up with solutions. To do so is just shooting in the dark,” Shelton said.

The board agreed. Though it did not postpone the vote, it held off on purchasing public outreach, compliance and enforcement services.

“I would like to suggest, based on the discussion we heard tonight — the public comment and other emails and discussions — that we amend our plan,” Trustee Melinda Little said.

Trevor Sussey of Saranac Lake tells the village board he’d like to see a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed in the village. He said apartment hunting is making some “desperate.” (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

The board voted to just buy the software to collect data on STRs in the village. This reduced the price from $7,500 to $3,500.

This software scans rental sites such as Airbnb, VRBO or Adirondack by Owner every day and identifies the properties by what platform they are listed on, addresses, types of structure, contact information for the owner and whether the owner also occupies the property.

Trustee Kelly Brunette agreed on postponing the village’s vote to purchase the other Rentalscape services.

“I feel it’s a little premature at this point,” she said. “I think we are at the discovery phase.”

Mayor Clyde Rabideau, an STR-owner, recused himself from the vote. He said he was advised by the NY Conference of Mayors that voting would constitute a conflict of interests. He said he still can comment, however, and took the opportunity to respond to something else Shelton said: “We are aware that the board has been having off-the-record conversations about short-term rental regulations for at least a year.”

Wayne Zukin tells the Saranac Lake village board many people have relied on income from short-term rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“Frankly, folks, we communicate all the time,” Rabideau said. “To expect us not to talk in the two weeks between meeting to meeting, frankly, is not realistic, nor is it practical.”

He said emails from the board’s village accounts are public record and can be obtained through the Freedom of Information Law. He said the village has several FOIL requests it is fulfilling now, including one submitted Monday.

Shelton, who made headlines regularly a few years ago for her unsuccessful effort to revive the former Dew Drop Inn, also took issue with board members saying STRs have caused a shortage of affordable housing in Saranac Lake.

“Show me the data,” she said.

Trevor Sussey of Saranac Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for the village board last year, said he’s seen the number of STR units rise significantly in the past year. He asked the board to consider capping the number of STRs allowed in the village to a certain limit.

“Anybody who’s on social media sees every other day somebody uses words like ‘desperate’ to describe their housing situation here,” Sussey said.

Jeff Murray of Saranac Lake said he wants regulations to be inexpensive for people who are renting out part of their home.

“We’re not just one of these people that are from out of state buying houses and houses trying to make a profit. We’re just trying to meet our expenses,” Murray said. “We want to do what we can for people in the village. That’s why we rent out locally.”

He said his house does not lend itself to long-term rental but is well-suited for an STR. He lives upstairs and rents his downstairs as an STR, while doing monthly rentals at other properties.

Trustee Rich Shapiro said he believes STR permits will be affordable. He’s proposed a sliding scale for permit pricing, rising as the number of bedrooms rented increases. He hopes this would make it more affordable for people renting out a portion of their home.

Wayne Zukin said he is a “part-time resident” of the Saranac Lake area; he also lives in Philadelphia and now owns numerous historic buildings in Saranac Lake. He asked the village to learn more before regulating STRs and worried about the timing of this regulation.

“We’re coming through this pandemic now, and it’s been a struggle for a lot of people at all levels,” Zukin said. “I think short-term rentals has provided a little bit of a buffer for some of those folks.”

Little said she received several STR-related public comment emails Monday afternoon. They came too late to be included in the meeting packet and read that night, but she said they’d be read at the village’s next meeting May 10.

Village Clerk Kareen Tyler said public comment by mail, or email at clerk@saranaclakeny.gov, must be submitted by noon on May 6.

Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski explained why the village chose Rentalscape over cheaper STR software like AirDNA. She said AirDNA only scrapes info from Airbnb and VRBO, but there are many other, smaller STR services, too. She said AirDNA also does not list addresses. Giving a general area of a listing makes it hard to determine if it is actually in the village.

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