Date set for Saranac Lake board to vote on STR law
SARANAC LAKE — The village is getting closer to having a short-term rental regulation law on the books. After the village board held a public comment session on the final draft of the proposed law to relatively little public input on Monday, it set June 12 as a tentative date to take a vote on the law.
The village has been discussing regulating STRs for over two years now. The proposed law, if passed, will require all STR owners to get permits from the village to operate an STR, create new restrictions on who can open a new unit, cap the number of STRs allowed in the village, “grandfather in” existing rentals, allow exceptions to the cap and other regulations for developers looking to rehabilitate or build new structures, and create several safety and neighborhood character preservation rules for active rentals.
The village board plans to meet in the village board room in the Harrietstown Town Hall at 5:30 p.m. on June 12 to vote on whether or not to implement its STR regulations.
The village board is assuming they will be sued by STR owners after passing this law and that portions of the law will be brought to court. A proposed residency requirement in the law, which would bar those who live outside of the village from being able to get a permit for a new STR unit, is one of the major pieces looked at as a potential lawsuit topic.
On Monday, village resident David Lynch told the board he felt the residency requirement is an important part of the law. He urged board members to fight for this part of the law, regardless of any threats of lawsuits it might bring.
Many members of the community have been asking for STR regulation for a variety of reasons, and some STR owners have been opposed to the idea from the start. While some of those STR owners are much happier and less fearful of the law hurting their businesses now than they were a couple months ago, several have said they wouldn’t like any sort of regulation.
People advocating for STR regulations hope the law will help mitigate the affordable housing crisis. The key parts of the law they like are the cap on the number of new STR permits that the village can issue and a ban on people who live outside of the village from getting permits for new STRs. They believe these two rules will decrease Saranac Lake’s potential of being bought up by investors, which would reduce an already small housing stock and potentially increase property prices.
On Monday, village resident Tevor Sussy spoke in favor of the proposed legislation. He believes it will address some of the housing shortage issues the village is facing. He said it has been “tough” to see these issues unfold in neighboring Lake Placid, and thanked the board for “confronting” the issue.
“It’s been my experience often that if no one is happy then you’ve done a good job,” village resident Sarah Clarkin told the board on Monday.
Lynch thanked the many people involved in crafting, debating and fine-tuning the law over many hours and many months.
“This has easily been the most transparent, public engaging process I’ve seen since I started attending these meetings a few years ago,” Lynch said.
Lynch called the proposed law “balanced.” It addresses the role STRs play in the larger housing crisis, he said, while “protecting the investments” existing STR owners have made in their properties.
STR owner Siera Burke thanked the board for letting their group be part of the process in creating the law, and for holding public work sessions for “hours on end.” She said STR owners felt involved, heard and appreciated.
Several advocates for the law told the board on Monday that they felt the proposed process for setting the cap on the number of STR permits the village is allowed to issue was still “ambiguous.”
Village resident Tammara Van Ryn said it is “arbitrary and capricious” and to avoid a lawsuit they should explain the reason for it.
Mayor Jimmy Williams said the board has found it difficult to come up with a standardized format for setting the cap before the law passes, which will give them a clearer view of exactly how many STR units there are in the village. Because of that, they’re not going to try to solidify the process right now.
The board is planning on passing an initial STR law and then setting the STR permit cap based on the number of STRs already in the village.
Lynch suggested that the village tie the maximum number of STRs allowed in the village to a percentage of the total housing units — he suggested 5%. The law currently allows 10 new permits in the coming year, but Williams said this is a placeholder number.
Van Ryn suggested the development board should set the cap since it is their responsibility to carry it out and said the cap should be calculated at the “nexus” of the village’s comprehensive plan and the “carrying capacity” of each zoning district.
Van Ryn suggested, to protect village from “perceptions of conflicts of interest,” any village employee, official or appointee who has an STR application — approved or pending — should be recused from procedural decisions about applications, caps and exceptions.
Williams owns STRs in the village, including one above T.F. Finnigan’s, which he co-owns.
Trustee Rich Shapiro asked if the board would consider making any of the changes the public suggested that night.
Williams said the board has already discussed many of them and were not ready to make them. He said they can work on revising the wording forever. Any major changes to the law at this point would mean lengthening the process again — holding another public hearing and sending it back to the county for review. He wants to pass the law, which he said is “overdue.”
Trustee Matt Scollin, who had declared that “we will have a law by January, by Jesus” in early December, later said he regretted making setting such a deadline. It being May now, he said he’d like to pass the law with the assumption that they can create an “amendment package” down the line to address any issues that crop up when the village starts implementing the law.
On Tuesday, village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said Rentalcape, a STR tracking software the village pays for, showed that 83 properties were being used as STRs in the village.
There were a total 207 active listings, but some of those may be a single unit rented on multiple platforms. Konkoski said Rentalscape showed that there were 14 multi-family dwellings being rented as STRs. The other 69 properties were either single-family homes or accessory dwelling units.
The process set up through the village’s proposed law would send permit applications — whether for a new unit or a preexisting one — through the village development board. This would create an immediate backlog of permit applications for preexisting STRs for the development board to clear up, which could take a long time.
The board would be required to approve all of these permits, which is not typical, but a majority of the village board wanted to do it this way to allow neighbors of these STRs to have a say in public hearings for the board to consider setting conditions on the permit to eliminate any grievances neighbors may have.
If the development board sets conditions and they are not met, the STR owner’s permit could be revoked. The village code enforcement officer would be in charge of this.
The volunteer-run development board has been grappling with the massive workload of public hearings this law would put on them. Board members are discussing possibly meeting twice a month rather than once per month, settling in for long meetings and doing this work for months and months. Even hearing several permit applications each meeting — on top of their current work — the board has estimated that it could take at least a year and a half to clear the backlog of preexisting STR units.
During that time, the village plans to not issue any new STR permits until all the preexisting units are permitted.
If the law passes, it would go to the state Department of State and takes effect as soon as that office receives it.
The development board will discuss if the law is consistent with the state Environmental Quality Review Act and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program at its next board meeting on June 6 at 5 p.m.