Saranac Lake development board marks up draft STR law
Clarifications requested, permit process questioned, ‘workload issue’ postponed
SARANAC LAKE — The village development board on Tuesday discussed a short-term vacation rental law recently proposed by the village board for the first time.
Members of the development board requested clarifications and additional language from the village and voiced concerns over some portions of the law, but postponed discussion of how they plan to handle the massive workload of STR permit public hearings that they expect this law would put on them.
The village is in the midst of putting its STR law, which is meant to regulate the rental units in Saranac Lake, up for review before putting it up for a vote by the village board.
After a three-and-a-half hour meeting with several other projects on the agenda, development board members chose to discuss their procedural plans at another meeting set for March 16 at 4 p.m.
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, which would require a public hearing. Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said the village board has the authority to handle special use permits, but in this case, it was delegating the special use permit process to the development board.
All development board members said they realize this is a lot of work for them to take on and they want to nail down how this process will go ahead of time to make it as efficient as possible and to give everyone involved a clear expectation of what to expect.
Development Board Chair Allie Pelletieri estimated that they would be able to hear three preexisting permits per night. The development board typically meets once a month, but Pelletieri said they could meet twice a month.
Data from the village’s Rentalscape STR tracking software accessed on Feb. 20 showed 130 STRs in the village. At this rate, it would take around two and a half years to hear all preexisting STR permits, board members estimated last month. This would outlast most of their terms on the board.
Development board member Rick Weber said this creates a “workload issue” for the development board, and that the group needs to plan well to handle it efficiently.
Special use permits
Some board members questioned if the special use permit described in the law is actually a special use permit. Because the law states that all preexisting STRs would be approved — what has been called “grandfathered in” — Pelletieri and Konkoski said it was closer to administrative approval, but with a public hearing and potential for conditions to be set.
The STR law changes the traditional special use permit language to say the development board “may” approve a special use permit to “shall” approve a permit.
“That’s pretty baller,” Development Board member Adam Harris said.
Konkoski said she understands the village’s intentions, but this makes her feel “uneasy,” legally. Mayor Jimmy Williams said after the meeting that he had already asked the village attorney about dictating that the development board approve special use permits and he was waiting on a response.
“It just seems strange that we can’t refuse it,” Pelletieri said. “It’s different. It’s like we need a whole ‘nother category here.”
Pelletieri wondered if the village needs a new “STR” category of permit but Konkoski wasn’t sure if they could create a new category of permit.
She said these permits can’t be done through “site plan review” because that process gives the board the option of waiving a hearing and the village wants to require hearings.
She said special use permits are supposed to be discretionary. The board determines if a use may be compatible in a neighborhood, and if it can mitigate impacts to the neighborhood by setting conditions, it must approve the permit. But if a permit is already guaranteed, she felt that runs contrary to the intention of requiring a special use permit in the first place.
“I think one temporary weirdness is an accepted way to just get through this process,” Harris said.
Konkoski said the permits could come with conditions with changes to the property, based on a decision by the development board with comments from neighbors within 200 feet of the property line. But there is a limit to the conditions it can require.
“It’s not like the sky is the limit for putting conditions on a project,” Konkoski said on Wednesday. “They have to be tied to the specific criteria for special use permit review.
“Because they’re not a legislative body they can’t make up rules or put conditions on a project that aren’t tied to the development code,” she added.
Harris said they should list the conditions they will consider, to provide consistency from permit-to-permit.
“The point of this is to dish out to neighbors so the neighbors can come and express what’s been going on next door,” Harris said. “Somebody said at the last village board meeting ‘I don’t think my neighbors should be able to tell me what to do.’ But it also sucks for the neighbors for you to open up something next to them that is impacting their lives.”
This will take a “balance,” he said. Harris believes neighbors should be heard and the board should mitigate any nuisance to neighbors, but he said they need specific guidance on how to do that.
He wants specific legal guidance on what conditions they will act on. He said neighbors will likely come in asking for many different and specific conditions to be set — for example, a loud coffee maker in the morning — and he would feel uncomfortable without specific guidance.
Pelletieri said the STR law’s noise rule should match village noise ordinance. He wants all rules to be the same for STRs as they are for all other residences. Noise issues can go both ways, he pointed out.
“What if I have my house and then next door is a rental and it’s a group of nuns from somewhere and they want it quiet and I’m having a party?” Pelletieri asked.
Harris said noise is something that should be handled through existing laws with the police, and that it is not something the development board can be involved in.
Konkoski said the criteria have to be tied to a specific use. Since vacation rentals are not noisy by nature — like something like a machine shop would be — it depends on who is renting the place. Because of that, the development board cannot really get involved in criteria about that.
Cap guidance requested
Konkoski wants goals for adjusting the proposed cap on the number of STR permits each year. She would be responsible for looking at the number and distribution of existing STRs and making a recommendation for how many new permits to issue in the coming year to the development board. The development board would consider this and send its recommendation to the village board.
Konkoski said she wants more guidance on how she’ll make this recommendation, saying it should line up with the village’s goals and objectives. She said the village’s comprehensive plan might need an update to include goals about STRs now.
On Feb. 27, the village board moved its STR law forward by agreeing to submit it for review by other local boards. The development board is the first of these. Next, it will go to the village attorney and then the Essex County Planning Board. Each of these entities will have the chance to review and comment on the law, as well as suggest changes. The village board will consider these changes after each step.
By submitting the law for review, the board has essentially agreed that major changes to the draft are mostly over. Smaller changes will still be made, trustees said, but the broad strokes of the law are in place.
Three members of the village board — Williams and trustees Kelly Brunette and Matt Scollin — attended the Tuesday meeting but were not allowed to speak. At one point, Harris asked Williams a question. Williams made a motion of sealing his lips and throwing away the key.
This was a quorum of the village board, but Brunette said since it was a public meeting that had been advertised and they did not speak at the meeting this was OK.
The village board meets next at 5:30 p.m. March 13.