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Deerwood Hills rezoning proposal dropped from Lake Placid STR law

Deerwood resident Tina Charbonneau told North Elba Town Councilors that she would prefer proper enforcement of short-term vacation rental regulations over completely rezoning Deerwood during a public hearing on the proposed regulations at the Lake Placid Conference Center Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — The North Elba Town Council has dropped its proposal to rezone Deerwood Hills from a “Rural Countryside” district to a “Town Residential” district.

The proposal to rezone 48 parcels in Deerwood was part of the town and the village of Lake Placid’s proposed short-term vacation rental regulations — town councilors say the measure was intended to prohibit new “unhosted” STRs, or rentals where the owner doesn’t reside there full-time, from popping up there. But after 11 Deerwood residents opposed the rezoning at a public hearing for the proposed regulations on Tuesday, and after more than 20 Deerwood residents further debated the measure at a follow-up town council meeting on Wednesday, the town council has rescinded its rezoning proposal for Deerwood.

The town council and village board will now move forward with voting on their proposed STR law without the rezoning proposal. However, removing the rezoning from the town and village’s proposed STR regulations is such a significant change that the municipalities are required to hold another public hearing on the updated proposal, according to town Supervisor Derek Doty. Additionally, he said, the village will have to extend its moratorium on the issuance of new STR permits — which was set to end on Dec. 31 — so the boards have time to hold the additional public hearing and file the new STR law with the county and state. A moratorium extension would also require a public hearing. A date hasn’t been set for either of these public hearings yet.

The town and village want to file their new STR law before their STR moratoriums end. While the village’s moratorium is currently set to end on Dec. 31, the town extended its moratorium through Jan. 31, 2023, on Monday.

Meanwhile, the town council has asked Deerwood residents to take a poll amongst themselves on whether or not they want to be rezoned and report their results to the town council within two weeks. If a majority of 80% or more residents in Deerwood say they want to be rezoned to a Town Residential district, the town council would rezone Deerwood with an amendment to the new STR law.

Rezoning effects

As part of its proposed STR regulations, the town and village want to keep new unhosted STRs out of residential areas while still allowing unhosted rentals in more commercial and rural areas. Rezoning Deerwood to a residential district would ensure that only hosted rental permits could be issued there in the future. But Deerwood residents at Tuesday’s public hearing said they were concerned that redistricting could increase housing density there, strain sewer systems and potentially change the rural character of the neighborhood that many of the residents said they’ve enjoyed for decades.

After the hearing on Tuesday and at a special town council meeting on Wednesday, town Councilor Emily Kilburn Politi explained that rezoning Deerwood wouldn’t affect housing density in the neighborhood. While minimum lot sizes in the Town Residential district are smaller than in the Rural Countryside, the Adirondack Park Agency has more strict jurisdiction over lot sizes at Deerwood, and the APA’s rules would supersede the town’s requirements.

Most of Deerwood is classified for resource management use, with a minimum lot size of 42.7 acres, per APA standards; the rest of the properties are classified for low-intensity use, with a minimum lot size of 3.2 acres. If the town did decide to rezone Deerwood, lot sizes couldn’t be significantly reduced without a variance from the APA, according to Kilburn Politi, and those variances would have to be supported by the town.

Lessons learned

Councilors on Tuesday and Wednesday assured Deerwood residents they were trying to protect their neighborhood by rezoning it. They said they didn’t want Deerwood to become like Hillcrest Avenue, a residential neighborhood which has become known for having a high prevalence of unhosted STRs.

But some Deerwood residents felt local officials hadn’t been transparent in their decision to rezone their neighborhood — residents at Tuesday’s public hearing said they found out about the rezoning from an anonymous letter they received in the mail. Doty said the town had opted not to send letters out to residents alerting them about the rezoning because councilors were told they didn’t legally need to.

By the end of Wednesday’s follow-up meeting, however, Doty said he felt that residents understood that housing density in Deerwood Hills wouldn’t change with the rezoning and that councilors’ intentions with the measure had been good. He said he learned a lesson in communication this week.

“If I had to do anything different, I wouldn’t have just followed state rules in changing zoning. I would’ve notified each property owner from this town of North Elba,” he said. “I feel that was probably a big mistake on our part, and I took full responsibility for it.”

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