Changes, legal counsel sought on Saranac Lake STR law

Development board recommends changes as members prepare for large workload

SARANAC LAKE — The village development board has finished looking over the village board’s draft short-term rental regulation law and is sending back what Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski calls a “menu of options” — recommendations, changes and additions — for the village board to consider.

In trying to mesh an original, new law with a dense, labyrinthine existing code, the board went down lots of dead ends, branching paths and loops in its discussion of the nitty-gritty language at a March 16 meeting.

The village board decided to fold the law into the existing development code, so now, the development board is trying to make it jive with the existing language. Development Board member Adam Harris compared this to fitting a square peg in a round hole.

The village’s draft STR law would send every STR permit — whether for a new unit or a preexisting one — to the development board, which would issue applicants a special use permit. The process would require a public hearing on each permit. The village board is delegating this to the development board, so development board members said they need to find workarounds to make it work.

But development board members are asking the village board to reconsider making the STR application require a special use permit after finding complications.

The dilemma with special use permits is that while they are the only method that requires a public hearing, they also give the most discretion to the development board to approve or deny a permit. The village board wants to require public hearings for preexisting STRs, but also approve all preexisting STRs to avoid “cutting the legs out from under” people who have invested in these properties already.

Konkoski and Mayor Jimmy Williams said they had a call with a New York Conference of Mayors attorney who told them it is “unusual” for a village board to tell the development board to approve all these special use permits, but it’s not outright impossible.

Konkoski said the NYCOM attorney suggested finding a different type of approval, rather than a special use permit.

The village board will discuss the development board’s suggestions at its March 27 meeting. The development board is not making the decisions, after all, Konkoski said — just advising the trustees that do.

Attorney requested

Development Board Chair Allie Pelletieri suggested the village provide budgeting for Konkoski to have a land-use attorney on call for questions.

Harris said they were talking around a lot of issues with no certainty as to what is legal and what they can do because they aren’t attorneys.

At one point, when speaking about the board setting conditions on STR permits, Konkoski said the NYCOM attorney said in his view, setting conditions is “asking for trouble.” The development board would need to apply these conditions consistently or it could open them up to a lawsuit, she said. Board members asked for very precise boundaries of conditions they can set. Konkoski said all these conditions need to tie back to the code, be reasonable and be applied consistently.

“You just told the board that you were told by an attorney that if we put conditions on a project that aren’t on another project, that it could open us up for liability,” Harris said. “We’re being put in that situation. And I just kind of resent that, without more feedback from an attorney.”

He wants an attorney to look at these unique plans and make sure they’re legally sound.

Why a special use permit?

The village board is asking the development board to give the permits scrutiny, but not be able to deny them, which development board members found confusing.

Pelletieri asked, if these are such a big deal that they need public hearings, then why does his board not have the power to reject them.

Village Trustee Matt Scollin said he would consider trying to change the language from the development board “shall” approve the permits, back to “may.”

Trustees Kelly Brunette and Scollin initially voted against the “shall” language, but the amendment passed with three other votes from the village board.

Development board members feel the public hearings are important, but also feel the whole special use permit process is not required.

“Lighten the load,” Pelletieri said.

Time and money

The development board is also grappling with the workload implications this will bring. Even if they hear a handful of pre-existing STR permit applications a night and meet twice each month, more frequently than they currently do, it will take at least a year and a half to clear the backlog of preexisting STR units.

Board members are volunteers. They said this will also place a massive amount of work on the village staff — Konkoski, Administrative Assistant Cassandra Hopkins and Code Enforcement Officer Chris McClatchie.

The board is asking the village board to consider hiring a second code enforcement officer to help McClatchie with all the inspections that could come about from this.

Harris asked if there is money in the budget for the overtime it will take for them to do all this paperwork.

The boards are both trying to find a way to have the most streamlined process possible for the sake of the applicants, the development board and village staff. Though the details will truly be hammered out when the final law is passed, all members knew these public hearings have the potential to be very long.

“Every single one is going to be a four-hour meeting,” Harris said. “That’s the reality of what we’re looking at right now.”

He asked how the board members feel about holding two meetings every month for several years.

“I do not like that,” Meg Cantwell-Jackson said. She’s on other boards, she said.

“Well, I like all you people, so I don’t mind,” Pelletieri said.

“Great,” Paul Herrmann said.

Konkoski said her schedule right now does not work for that, but she can rearrange it.

Liability insurance

Cantwell-Jackson wanted STR owners to be required to have liability insurance, so the owner is legally responsible for harm caused to a renter or their belongings. She was focused on safety during the meeting.

Pelletieri didn’t want to require liability insurance unless the same was applied to long-term rentals. He was focused on keeping the law “fair” across the board. He asked why they would protect visitors more than locals. He asked if this was an agreement between the owner and the renter, why they were getting involved.

“We’re already in it,” Cantwell-Jackson said.

“How much do we want to run it?” Pelletieri asked.

“Personally, zero,” Harris said.

“My opinion, too,” Pelletieri said.

Konkoski said the purpose of the development code is to protect the health and safety of the village. If it’s for safety, Pelletieri said everyone should have it. He wasn’t against requiring the insurance, but he said down the road, the village should amend its code so liability insurance is required across the board, for long-term rentals, as well.

The development board is suggesting the village repeal and replace its current definition of a dwelling unit with the new one in the STR law to make it “cleaner.” The development board is also asking the village to update its noise ordinance for all village properties.


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