Village board promises STR regulations draft after holidays

Housing task force members want to move on to finding housing solutions

Members of the Saranac Lake Housing Task Force and village board met to talk about short-term rental regulations on Tuesday, with a large showing from the public, too. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake village board is pledging to have a draft of short-term rental regulations for the public to review after the holiday season, and will discuss the current state of the document with the village Housing Task Force at a board meeting tonight.

At a meeting on Tuesday, task force members had the draft of the STR regulations before them, one which their predecessor — the Saranac Lake Housing Work Group — drew up, and which they had made revisions to. The members of the group are not all satisfied with the changes they’ve made so far, but after public request for quick action to allow the group to continue its work developing new housing, village leaders said now, it’s up to the village board to bring the regulations to the finish line.

Village Mayor Jimmy Williams said the board will finalize the language, get it to lawyers to make sure the rules can be enforced and don’t open the village up to any lawsuits, and have an STR policy for the public to look at and comment on after the holiday season.

Williams said this should happen in January. It takes time to schedule a public meeting. He wants to present the policy in the new year to give the most people possible the chance to comment on it.

He said it’s important to get these regulations right, both for the village residents who own rentals and those who do not. Williams wants the regulations to be simple — complexity takes time, he said. But the rules also need to be able to be legally enforced.

Some people have moral objections to STR regulations because they believes in property owners’ rights to do what they want with a property, village officials said, even if they don’t own an STR.

Williams said he wants to consider capping the number of STRs allowed in the village to make them “sustainable.” He believes this will also calm the fever pitch of high property


Hungry for more pie

Though STR regulations are a big focus of people around town, task force member and president of the Northern Adirondack Board of REALTORS Jodi Gunther said they are not the end-all, be-all of housing solutions.

She said STR data shows STRs are a much smaller piece of the proverbial housing “pie” in Saranac Lake than they are in Lake Placid.

“I’ve been concerned that the narrative is that Facebook is telling us that ‘This is going to solve everything,'” Gunther said. “It’s not. … There are so many other pieces here that we really need to get to work on.”

STR regulations do not actually create housing, she said.

Many members of the task force, village board and public said they are excited for the task force to be finished with STR regulations and finally get to focus on the other housing solutions that could bring more units.

Task force member Joe Gladd said he is more interested in developing long-term rentals than he is in regulating STRs.

Investors not wanted

Most members of the task force and village board who were at the meeting on Tuesday, as well the majority of the public there, all said they dislike investors from out of the area buying properties to make STRs. They said this depletes the housing stock without contributing to the community, and breaks up neighborhoods.

“I don’t like out-of-state absentee landlords,” Williams said. “I want to promote local ownership.”

He said STR regulations should prioritize people who contribute to the community, and residents above all.

“I don’t think second homes are any better than STRs,” Williams added. “Because it still takes a place that someone could live full-time in our community away.”

Williams owns two LTRs and two STRs downtown, all for supplemental income from his other businesses. He said the two STRs used to be apartments, but in five years, five different tenants cost him $12,000 in unpaid rent and more in apartment damages, so he turned them into STRs.

Trustee Tom Catillaz works at Hyde Fuel which he said give him an eye on real estate.

“In my job, not a day goes by that I don’t deal with minimum five people that live outside of here who have … certainly never been to Saranac Lake, just buying up homes,” Catillaz said. “They aren’t doing any good for the community.”

Meanwhile, he said young people can’t afford houses here and choose to live elsewhere.

Gladd said he sees regulating STRs as part of “protecting” the community. While some rely on the income their STRs provide to survive, others are just supplementing their income, he said. Gladd said he’s against out-of-state investors buying homes for STRs, but locals should be allowed more options.

Task force member Trevor Jackson said he’s conflicted on regulations. The benefits for STR restrictions are vague to him, but the negatives — lost money spent by tourists in town — are obvious. Still, he said there’s a need for more workforce housing and the number of STRs can grow quickly.

Trustee Rich Shapiro said the regulations should support people who need the money short-term renting a room in their house could bring in. But investors? From outside the community? Absolutely not.

The number of investment STRs in Saranac Lake is going up, according to data village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski cited. Shapiro pointed out that with a moratorium on STRs in Lake Placid going into its eighth month, Saranac Lake is the next closest place to buy land, and investors are turning their eyes here. Also, last month, Evolve, a vacation rental and management company, named Saranac Lake the best place in the nation to buy a lakefront investment property next year.

“If we sit back and do nothing … we’ll turn into Lake Placid,” Shapiro said.

Gunther mentioned that people who feel passionate about not wanting more STRs in their neighborhoods in Lake Placid are including deed restrictions when they sell their properties that restrict their property from being used as an STR. This is an individual decision they make through a new program run by the LivingADK nonprofit.

Zones or definitions?

There were several task force members missing from the meeting. Brian Draper left soon after the meeting began, so four members from the 11-member task force were active in the meeting.

This small portion of the task force was not all of one mind on the regulations. But Williams said this is good. When he assembled the task force he wanted it to represent a cross-section of the community, including renters, landlords, realtors, bankers and tradespeople.

Scollin said the group can’t make everyone happy with their decisions, so it shouldn’t try to.

“There’s no split-the-baby solution,” he said, referencing King Solomon from the Bible. “It will be hard.”

Brunette said there’s no “shining star” example of how to do STR regulations. Every other community that has regulated STRs have had their own struggles, she said.

Gladd said a lot of thought and time went into their draft and it was “acceptable” to him.

Gunther said there were a lot of red marks on the draft but she was still concerned about how it laid out STR regulations. She felt portions were too confusing.

Draper said he wants more time on the draft. It was not right yet, in his eyes.

Jackson said not everyone’s comments made it to the draft.

Brunette said they have the “why” for regulating STRs. Now they need the “what” for what gets regulated and the “how” for how they are regulated. The task force and its predecessor have already worked on this a bit, but local laws, Brunette said, need revision. The development code does not account for STRs, she said, and neither does the village’s comprehensive plan. The former work group’s housing plan is relevant, she said, and can be a useful tool for the board.

But the task force is still split on those answers.

They had two options — to set STR “zones,” areas where they are allowed and areas where they are not; or, they could have different definitions of STRs, regulated at different levels.

Williams asked if they should consolidate these definitions. Scollin said the village needs separate, split definitions to make regulations of different properties clear.

Gunther said the STR regulations will likely need work as they go, and should be updated as needed.

Shapiro said, to him, STRs pose two overlapping issues: the housing shortage, which he sees STRs as only contributing to in a minor way — at least, for now — and the quality of neighborhoods, which he hears STRs are causing problems for.

Shapiro said he mostly hears complaints about STRs regarding “neighborhood integrity,” including noise, trash and parking. He said Lake Placid neighborhoods are getting “destroyed” by STRs.

Jackson said those noise, trash and parking regulations should be applied evenly to STRs and LTRs.

Village board member said they need time to fine-tune the STR regulations but are feeling the pressure from village residents. Williams said he wants to move on STR regulations “pronto.”

Brunette said Tupper Lake leaders should be working on STR regulations for their town now, too.

Tonight, the village board is inviting as many housing task force members to its meeting as it can. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the village office in the upper room of the Harrietstown Town Hall.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today