Tupper Lake town board mulls rules for vacation rentals

EDR report approved for Little Wolf Beach

TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Town Board discussed potential regulations on short-term vacation rentals in a special meeting on Tuesday, which led to lengthy discussion about the properties and how lawmakers believe they impact the community.

This is not the first time STR regulations have been floated in Tupper Lake. In 2022, the town board began discussions on regulations under interim town supervisor, and now village mayor, Mary Fontana. Councilman John Gillis brought an STR permit proposition to the table, and board members discussed the difficult balance between promoting tourism to the area while also protecting residents from increasing housing prices and decreasing housing numbers. There was no effort to limit numbers but rather talks on how to best regulate STRs.

On Tuesday, Gillis brought the same permitting system to the table.

“My goal is really to be a good host community,” he said.

He proposed a permitting system for STRs, which would let the town keep close track of which residences were renting to visitors and enact rules for them, such as yearly inspections for smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, gas grills, occupancy and electrical compliance.

Gillis also brought up “good neighbor policies,” which would enact town-wide quiet hours, ensure adequate parking and highlight situations where parking is not acceptable. They would also require owners of STRs to have and maintain a house book which would detail the home’s information in a good, visible location. Similar regulations are part of STR laws already adopted in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

Gillis also explained that Sewer Districts 17, 17-1, 17-2 and 23, all waterfront districts, have grinder pumps; they also have the most STRs. He said that these pumps cost districts $100,000 annually to repair. Not knowing which ones are connected to STRs and which service residential homeowners, permitting STRs could allow the town to make liable STR owners who don’t ensure their guests follow grinder pump rules: nothing but human waste and toilet paper should be flushed, he said.

“It’s not fair to the district that those people aren’t following the rules when the people who live here know what we can and can’t get away with to put down a garbage disposal or flush down a toilet,” Gillis said. “If these are getting abused by these people renting for (STRs), we should have a way to check that.”

Town Supervisor Rick Dattola had a different opinion on STRs and the problems they may or may not pose.

“Right now I don’t think we have a problem with (STRs),” he said. “What you’re asking us to do is create more bureaucracy.”

According to AirDNA, a free STR tracking service, there are currently 123 active STR listings in Tupper Lake, nearly twice as many as in 2022.

He mentioned that to enforce STR regulations, the town would need to hire and pay someone and charge people with STRs. In North Elba, this enforcement is led by the town’s Building Department. Currently, Tupper Lake does not have a code enforcement officer, but has instead been relying on the village CEO, Peter Edwards.

“I don’t think that we should be dealing with (STRs) right now because they’re not a problem,” Dattola said.

Problems the town does have right now, he said, are zoning issues and water and sewer needs that need to be addressed. He also expressed that the town should be working on making things easier for people, not creating more government interference.

In response, Gillis gave the example that to open a motel, a person needs a Department of Health and fire inspection. To have an Airbnb in Tupper Lake, he said, all you need is an email address, but not the inspections. He said the last time he stayed in one, it was listed as having a smoke detector. When he got there, it was brand new in the box in a dresser drawer.

“We want to be a good host. We want people to be safe in our community,” he said. “I think it’s irresponsible not to have those (STRs) checked for public safety when they’re rented to the public and people assume that they’re going to be safe.”

Dattola pointed out that most owners of STRs likely have insurance, which means an inspector would have needed to check the residence. He also said that if you regulate things too much, people will go “underground” and skirt regulations.

Councilwoman Crystal Boucher asked the board if a happy medium was possible, where the town would send a letter to STR owners asking to include safety guidelines and requirements for renters.

Councilman Tim Larkin said he believes that the STR market is self-regulating, in that he thinks that as soon as someone rents and has a bad experience, that STR is finished. Dan McClelland, owner and publisher of the Tupper Lake Free Press, agreed with Larkin, saying that in his own experience as an STR owner, one bad complaint will ruin you.

Larkin also said it’s not fair to enforce parking regulations on STRs when local residents don’t have to follow the same rules. For example, if an STR had four cars parked on the street and that wasn’t allowed, it’s not right that the next-door neighbor could be hosting a party at the same time with cars parked all the way down the street, he said.

Councilman Rick Donah, who owns apartments locally, said that in talking with STR owners, he found that some — specifically a fireman — were not opposed to the idea of permitting. Donah himself is not opposed to inspections in his buildings, and would, in fact, like to see it. He said in the village and town, inspections like these don’t happen, and that Tupper Lake has not been proactive about looking at properties. He added that though he is in favor of inspections, he’s not keen on singling out STRs.

“I’m basically in the middle on this one,” he said.

He went on to say that the town’s main focus right now should be ratifying and implementing codes.

“That needs to be priority one,” he said.

The board agreed to draft a letter to address grinder pump problems in the aforementioned districts.

Water and Sewer District 1

The board discussed plans to repair water lines in Water and Sewer District 1 in partnership with the Development Authority of the North Country.

In 2017, the town consolidated its 51 water districts by lumping together all the debt-free districts. Now, District 1 needs repairs, the cost for which will come from everyone in the district, Dattola explained. He said that the town is a long way — maybe a year or two — from having actual numbers, which will change estimates if the town can secure grants.

“I just wanted to get it out there so people understand what’s going on, and (so) we can maybe answer some questions and put some fires out before we get some numbers,” he said.

Little Wolf

The board approved a report from EDR — or Environmental Design & Research, Landscape Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Services — detailing the cost of proposed renovations to Little Wolf Beach and Campground.

Possible renovations include adding a lot in the rear of the property to move parking away from the main beachfront; adding hardened surfaces throughout for accessibility; creating six car camping sites; creating new primitive campsites; installing additional bathrooms; moving the current boat launch away from campsites; and making campsites more uniform in size so most campers can fit. The report’s total estimated renovation cost is $7.3 million.

Gillis explained that approving the report only means that EDR can move forward with necessary steps for development and getting environmental impact studies done, but that it does not mean the town is agreeing to a $7.3 million project. In an addition to the resolution, the board agreed that if the town does follow through with the project, it will be done in pieces as grants are available.


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