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Wilmington STR hearing tonight

WILMINGTON — A public hearing on the proposed amendments to Wilmington’s short-term vacation rental law is set for 6:30 tonight at the Wilmington town offices. The amendments include tweaks to the language that governs STR permitting and a clause granting the Wilmington Town Council the authority to exceed the STR permit cap pending a public hearing.

Changes to Wilmington’s STR law have been more than a year in the making. Wilmington’s STR committee, appointed by the town council in April 2023, presented its findings at a public meeting last August. A draft STR law written by the committee and based on its findings was reviewed by the town council in February. At the time, residents questioned the draft’s enforceability and reach. The town council agreed at that meeting to revise the draft before sending it to the town attorney.

The amendments up for review at tonight’s public hearing is significantly pared down from the STR committee’s draft, focusing mostly on STR permitting, which was only one component of the committee’s recommendations. If passed by the town council, this proposed law would amend the town’s land use code, superseding some of the current STR amendments passed in August 2021.

The public hearing will be followed by the town council’s regular monthly meeting. A vote on the proposed law is on that meeting’s agenda. Town Supervisor Favor Smith said Monday that, based on the feedback the town council receives at the public hearing, there may be a vote on the law.

Amendments

The first amendment in the proposed law explains the town council’s intent to regulate STRs, saying that it is “beneficial for the town to control and regulate” STRs in town.

The second amendment adjusts the language of the existing land-use code’s permitting procedures for STRs. Under the amended law, STR permits would only be valid for one year, not two, and must be renewed before they expire. The previous law said that permits should be renewed “upon expiration.” Any two-year permits already issued and in effect will remain valid until their two-year term expires. Permits are issued by STR, not by owner. Each STR needs its own permit, and permits will remain non-transferable between owners. This means that, should an STR be sold, the new owner would need to re-apply for a permit to continue operating as an STR.

The third amendment introduces a cap on the amount of STR permits that can be issued at any given time, subsequently also limiting the amount of STRs in town at any given time. The cap is set at 150 permits, but the town council will be allowed to grant exemptions in “special circumstances,” provided they hold a public hearing on the matter beforehand.

The fourth amendment requires that every STR must be inspected by the town code enforcement officer every two years.

Committee findings

Wilmington is among a number of local municipalities, including Keene, which are drafting or tweaking their STR regulations as the rise in popularity of STRs exacerbates the local affordable housing crisis. The town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid adopted STR regulations in 2020 and the village of Saranac Lake followed in 2023.

The STR explosion in Wilmington exacerbated an already strained housing supply. By the STR committee’s calculations, only 15% of housing in Wilmington is currently geared toward long-term renters, and “the vast majority” of structures currently in use as STRs are viable LTRs. The committee said last August that, of the 414 households in Wilmington, 120 are STRs. Of these 120 STRs, around 80-85% are owned by people who do not live in Wilmington.

The committee’s policy proposals in August were anchored by the plan to cap the number of STR permits available at a given time at 120, meaning that no new STRs would be allowed in Wilmington until others closed. This is 30 permits lower than the final proposed law’s cap of 150.

The committee also proposed to limit Wilmington residents to two permits each and non-residents to one each. Town council member Tim Follos said in February that the United States Court of Appeals struck down a similar rule in 2022 and the town would likely not be able to treat residents and non-residents differently when issuing permits.

Also included in the committee’s August proposal were several regulations that would require their own separate laws or amendments — a revamped town noise ordinance and a firework, yard parking and dog ban at STRs specifically. The enforceability of these proposals was criticized at both the August presentation and February town council meeting.

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