Mixed response to Lake Placid STR exception requests

Karen Armstrong, right, speaks to the Lake Placid village board in May about two applications for an exemption from the village’s six-month moratorium on issuing new STR permits. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees on Monday heard from two people who have applied for exceptions to the village’s moratorium on issuing new short-term vacation rental permits, and three people from the public gave their opinions on the applications.

The village board didn’t take any action to approve or deny the two applications on Monday; the board plans to discuss the applications at its next workshop, which has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 31 at 3:30 p.m. in the North Elba Town Hall. The board also plans to discuss possible regulations on STRs at the workshop, according to village Mayor Art Devlin.

The village board in March unanimously passed a local law placing a six-month moratorium on issuing new short-term rental permits in the village of Lake Placid, one week after the North Elba Town Council voted to do the same, as the town and village consider changes to their STR regulations. The moratorium would end around the beginning of September.

Included in the local law was an allowance for variances. People can appeal to the village clerk for an exception to the moratorium if they believe it “would impose practical difficulties or extraordinary hardships” on them, according to the law. Both of the village’s two applicants are saying the moratorium would cause them financial hardship.

David Berger

David Berger, who applied for a variance under the Colorado-based company WB Builders, LLC, is asking the board to grant him an STR permit for a property on Saranac Avenue in the gateway corridor. He said on Monday that if he’s not granted an STR permit, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the “hundreds and thousands” of dollars he’s spent renovating the property.

Berger’s son was admitted to Northwood School last March, according to his application, and Berger and his wife bought the property on Saranac Avenue to renovate it and live with their son in Lake Placid for a year before using the property as an STR.

Berger wrote that his son left Northwood shortly after he started. Berger tried to transition their Lake Placid home into an STR earlier than planned, but delays in construction due to labor shortages and cost increases on construction materials led to a lengthier and more expensive construction process than anticipated.

Berger was represented by Lake Placid attorney Allison McGahay on Monday. McGahay presented his case to the board, providing multiple exhibits of what she said was proof that the moratorium would impose financial hardship on Berger. Berger’s variance application estimates that he’d have a financial loss of between $118,300 and $150,150 if he’s not granted an STR permit before the moratorium ends.

Berger said one of the selling points for their property on Saranac Avenue, the Stevens House, was that it was located in the gateway corridor and allowed unlimited STR opportunities. Berger said that while his family may stay there periodically in the future, they plan to settle down in the western U.S.

Berger said he tried to close out his building permit with the Building and Planning Department and start the STR permit application process just a few days after the moratorium started in March. He said he didn’t know there was a moratorium coming up. If someone had told him about the moratorium, he said, he wouldn’t have bought the house and would have told his son it didn’t make financial sense to attend school at Northwood.

Devlin asked Berger if he could rent the home long-term as a way to recoup some of the costs of his renovations there. Berger said it would be possible, but not at the same price as an STR. Berger said it didn’t make “good business sense.”

Berger asked the village board not to judge his case based on his appearance or material things.

“It’s easy to make assumptions about people you don’t know. It’s unfair until you have all the facts, so don’t make assumptions about me because I bought a $1.4 million house, because I put hundreds of thousands of dollars into renovations, or the cars I drive. It’s just not fair. The only thing that’s important here is if I lose that money, it’s bad.”

“You’ve got me interested now, what car do you drive?” Devlin asked.

Berger said someone had made a “snarky” comment about his Porsche.

Brendan Wilson and Ann Rinaldi

Brendan Wilson, of Pennsylvania, also came before the board to discuss his application for a variance for his home on McKinley Street.

When he and his partner, Ann Rinaldi, closed on their home in February, the moratorium wasn’t yet active. While the couple plans to move into their home permanently within three to four years, Brendan told the board, they planned to rent it as an STR to help pay the mortgage in the meantime. Wilson said in his application and on Monday that he’s always seen Lake Placid as a second home, and he and Rinaldi have always wanted to find a way to move here.

Wilson said he works remotely and travels, and Rinaldi is a schoolteacher. He said they put their life savings into purchasing the McKinley Street home, and estimated that they’d be losing around $25,000 if they weren’t able to rent the property throughout the moratorium. Wilson said he’d first heard about the possibility of an STR moratorium in early March.

“I didn’t realize there was a moratorium coming up, and had I known we might’ve rethought where things were at with purchasing the home,” he said.

When asked if he’d consider renting the property long-term, Wilson said it’s something the couple might consider if they can’t get an STR permit. He said they’d wanted to avoid renting long-term since Rinaldi has summers off and they could spend more time in the area then.

Public hearing?

The village’s local law for the STR moratorium states that a public hearing is required for each variance application, and the village board would need to approve or deny the application within 30 days of the public hearing. However, on Monday, when a member of the public asked to comment on the variance applications, Devlin said he thought the hearing was intended for the board to hear from the applicants, not the public.

The state Division of Local Goverment Services defines a public hearing as “an official proceeding of a governmental body or officer, during which the public is accorded the right to be heard.” While board members didn’t land on whether or not they wanted to allow the public to be heard during variance hearings in the future, Devlin invited three members of the public to speak during Monday’s regular board meeting.

Shelley Reynolds, who’s lived in Lake Placid for six years, said that it seemed logical to wait until the end of the moratorium to give village officials and the public time to figure out new STR regulations. If the board approved the two variance applications, she said, it would “set a precedent” as more and more homes are being turned into “commercial enterprises” in the area.

“Owning a second home — particularly a $1.5 million home — is the antithesis of financial hardship, no matter how you slice it,” Reynolds said. “Not being aware of something that has been going on in the community for several years, not bothering to make a phone call to the town or village to be informed on your $1.5 million investment — that is not a financial hardship. That is a terrible inconvenience, it is an oversight, it is a gigantic ‘oops.'”

Lake Placid resident Karen Armstrong said she didn’t think owning a second home and the phrase “financial hardship” should exist in the same sentence. She said approving these two applications would make a mockery of the moratorium to the community, especially “when so many people here are really struggling to not even stay in the home they own but to purchase a new home or to stay in a rental.”

Sarah Mehner, who said she had a different opinion from Reynolds and Armstrong, asked to speak. She explained that she had a second home on Hillcrest Avenue when Devlin interrupted, reminding Mehner that the board hadn’t intended to hear public comments and asking her to keep her comments short.

“OK, well, I see how it goes here,” she said to Devlin, who said that wasn’t true.

Mehner continued, saying that her family has a good relationship with Lake Placid. She thought exceptions to the moratorium should be made for people who are just coming to Lake Placid and don’t know the area. She thought that denying someone the reality of their financial hardship, just because they own a second home, wasn’t fair. She told the board it seemed like it had already set its mind to deny the variance applications.

Devlin said he disagreed and thanked her for her opinion. He said the village called for the moratorium to take a second look at its STR rules. Mehner said there could be exceptions to the rule.

“That’s why we’re here,” Devlin said.

Mehner closed her comments by saying that despite years of conversations about STR regulations and a moratorium, she believes it wouldn’t have been possible for anyone to pin down when the moratorium would begin.

Another hearing

The board has already received a third variance application, and the board plans to hold a public hearing for the applicant at 4:30 p.m. on June 6, before that night’s regular board meeting at 5 p.m.

Village Clerk Anita Estling said that the village will continue to accept variance applications throughout the moratorium, but the village wants to establish an application cut-off date of May 25 for people who want their application considered at the June 6 board meeting. That way, she said, the village can plan its notices to the paper and schedule additional hearings accordingly.

The village board expects to vote on the first two variance applications at its June 6 board meeting, unless board members decide to call a special meeting. Either way, the board has to take action on the applications by Friday, June 17 — within 30 days of Monday’s hearing.

When asked if the public would be allowed to comment at future public hearings for variances, Estling deferred comment to village attorney Janet Bliss. Bliss did not immediately respond by deadline Tuesday.


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