Tupper Lake eyes STR regulations

TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Town Board has started discussing potential vacation rental regulations and it is looking for public feedback on what the community wants to see in the future.

There’s no proposed regulations yet, and there isn’t a plan to propose regulations yet, according to interim town Supervisor Mary Fontana. But board members want to begin talking about it, gauging the community’s opinions and researching regulations now, because they’d like to be able to have regulations on the books by next summer.

Board members say they want regulations to make sure that short-term rentals are inspected for safety, to ensure that investment properties don’t encroach on workforce housing amid a housing shortage and to encourage vacation rentals in some areas, but not in others — namely residential neighborhoods.

Councilman John Gillis brought the discussion to the board last week. He wants the town to consider a local law for a vacation rental permit system. Gillis said he’s not against vacation rentals. He uses them himself when he travels and said Tupper Lake needs them to support its tourism industry.

Vacation rental regulations have been discussed in Saranac Lake and enacted in Lake Placid, where there are more STRs and the issue has been discussed for several years. Town board members say there’s not many issues with STRs currently in Tupper Lake, but they want to be prepared for the future, for when and if there’s an increase.

“We want to have the discussion now, so that in five years we’re not in the same position as Lake Placid or Saranac Lake,” Fontana said.

Board members said they’re supportive of vacation rentals as business opportunities and tourism drivers.

“We just don’t want them all to be (STRs),” Councilwoman Tracy Luton said.

For Luton, the shortage of homes concerns her. Tupper Lake is a small town, she said. There’s not a lot of houses already.

She said she’s not planning on proposing that a limit be put on the number of vacation rentals, but she wants them to be regulated.

“We’re all in favor of short-term rentals,” Fontana said. “We just want to make sure that we’re having the conversation now so that we don’t have to take steps later to try to regulate something that we should have had the foresight to do.”

She said the board wants to strike a “very delicate balance” in its tone.

“We want to promote them and encourage business in this community, and we want to protect locals as well in doing so. So wish me luck,” she said with a laugh. “I’m sure it’s going to be a hot one because there’s a lot of feelings associated with short-term rentals. … You’re either 100% behind it, or not.”

It will be a hard needle to thread, she said, but they’re hoping to find some middle ground.

Gillis said he is speaking with North Elba Town Council members about their STR regulations and six-month moratorium on issuing new STR permits.

Town Attorney Kirk Gagnier said the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba’s joint code is a “good model.” It’s gone through many iterations in a long process.

Fontana said turning rentals into vacation rentals is “lucrative” for property owners. Gagnier said an STR owner can make in months what a long-term rental owner can make in a year. Luton said it’s a good way to “make a quick buck,” but people need places to live.

Gillis said he’s been on the town board of assessment review for 16 years. Recently, he said he sees homes selling for a lot more than their assessed value to people who turn them into vacation rentals.

He said because it’s an investment, a business model, they know they can recoup the extra costs. He said this raises house prices and he’s worried it could price out families. House prices are rising faster than wages regardless, though, he added.

Gillis said four properties adjacent to his home have been converted from long-term rentals to vacation rentals in recent years.

“That’s fine. It’s a free country. It’s a capitalist country. That’s what people are supposed to do. But there comes a point. …” he said.

Gillis said he spoke with former town Supervisor Clint Hollingsworth before his death in February. He said Hollingsworth told him he lives in a commercial area, so he sort of “signed up” for being around possible STRs. But Hollingsworth told him “neighborhoods are neighborhoods.”

Fontana agreed. She said she’s traveled recently and when staying in a vacation rental, she saw a beautiful neighborhood with empty houses. The whole neighborhood was primarily vacation rentals, she said, and it was depressing to see dark houses where no families were living.

Gillis said he’s concerned by that. With fewer families, there are fewer volunteers and less community, he said.

Town resident Lidia Kriwox said Tupper Lake is in a different position than Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, though. Tupper Lake only has a few motel options to bring tourists into town.

She compared her town to Saranac Lake, where she saw Mayor Jimmy Williams campaign on a platform that the village catered to tourists too much and he wanted to focus on residents more.

“We’re not in that position,” Kriwox said. “They (tourists) can’t get here and stay here because we don’t have places for them to stay.”

Tupper Lake Public Library Director Courtney Carey said she is new to town, but has been concerned to see an increase in STRs. When she wants to put down roots and find a home there, she knows it will be difficult. She said regulation could help home buyers.

Gillis said the if the town doesn’t have the staff to serve tourists, there’s no point in attracting them.

Fontana said she wants to let the public know they’re talking about STR regulation because the town is looking to “stay ahead of the ball” and address it in the near future.

Currently, AirDNA, a free vacation rental tracking service, lists approximately 68 active rentals in the Tupper Lake region.

Of the active rentals, 73% are on AirBNB, 15% are on VRBO and 12% are listed on both, according to AirDNA. Of the active rentals, 81% are entire homes, 6% are private rooms and 13% are shared rooms, according to AirDNA.

Since AirDNA began collecting data in 2019, the number of rentals in Tupper Lake has more than doubled.


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