North Elba denies STR variance in Saranac Lake

LAKE PLACID — The North Elba Town Council has denied a third request for a variance from the town’s moratorium on new short-term vacation rental permits.

Town council members unanimously voted to deny New Jersey resident Amber Baranwal’s request for a variance for his family’s home on Rockledge Lane — in Saranac Lake — during last week’s regular board meeting. Baranwal attended the meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6 virtually.

Councilors presented a formal list of findings supporting their decision, and most councilors stated that they denied the application because they didn’t believe the moratorium had directly caused the financial hardships Baranwal described.

Proving that the STR moratorium has directly caused financial hardship is the main qualification for granting a variance.

Neither the town council nor the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees has granted a request for a variance since their STR moratoriums started in March. The village board has received and rejected a total of four variance requests.

The town council last month extended its moratorium through Jan. 31, 2023. The village board is now proposing to extend its moratorium to Jan. 31, too, pending a public hearing on the extension this coming Monday.

Town and village officials want to file their new law regulating STRs before their moratoriums end. Officials say they could vote on the new STR law on Dec. 20, and, if the STR law is filed before their moratoriums end, officials have said they could terminate their moratoriums before Jan. 31.

Reasons for denial

Town Councilor Emily Kilburn Politi said her biggest reason for denying the Baranwals’ application was the $135,000 difference between the home’s purchase and sale price — the Baranwals bought their home in fall 2021 for $390,000, and it’s currently on the market for $525,000. She thought the Baranwals didn’t present a financial hardship as a result of the STR moratorium in their application. Town Councilor Rick Preston said he echoed Kilburn Politi’s reasoning, and councilors Dick Cummings and Jason Leon said “Ditto.”

The Baranwals’ Saranac Lake home is their first home — they’re currently renting a property in New Jersey. Baranwal said they “gave everything” — including their entire savings — to “redo” the home in Saranac Lake since they bought it last year. They hoped that STR income would help cover the costs of the home until they were financially stable enough to leave their jobs in New York City.

Town Supervisor Derek Doty blamed the real estate agency that sold the Baranwals their Rockledge Lane home for “negligence” in the “permit situation.” The Baranwals said they didn’t know about the impending moratorium, or that they needed to apply for an STR permit, when they bought their home in the fall of 2021. If they’d known they couldn’t rent their home as an STR, Baranwal said, they wouldn’t have bought their home in the first place.

While Doty said he was “compassionate” toward the Baranwals’ “situation,” specifically noting the challenges mentioned in the Baranwals’ application about their infant son, who was recently diagnosed with an “intensive” medical condition, he agreed with the rest of the board in denying the application. The Baranwals said they’d been paying costly medical bills out-of-pocket for months. The couple had cashed in one of their retirement accounts “to make ends meet,” and they were considering cashing in their final retirement account this coming January.

“If things do not change, we will find ourselves having to sell our dream home at a loss, file for bankruptcy, or give the home back to the bank,” Baranwal wrote in his application.

However, Doty and the rest of the council stated that the Baranwals’ financial hardship wasn’t a direct result of North Elba’s moratorium.

The council’s finding of facts, which were used to support their decision, also stated that the Baranwals bought their property with the intention of using it as a vacation home and renting it as an STR until they could move here permanently; that the Baranwals made significant updates to their property without contacting the Building and Planning Department to ask about any necessary permits or inspections; and that the Baranwals didn’t apply for an STR permit before the moratorium went into effect.


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