This is not an easy task, but we believe it can be done
Thank you for the news coverage and editorial regarding the proposed regulations of short-term rentals in Lake Placid. This is very important for Lake Placid right now, but our neighboring communities are likely to experience the same issues in the near future.
We are homeowners on Lake Placid’s Hillcrest Avenue — the poster-child street of the vacation rental hubbub. When we bought our house in 1984, the neighborhood was solidly middle class, populated by shopkeepers, schoolteachers, postal workers, nurses, hotel staff and other local people, and there were few second homes. In recent years the character of the neighborhood has changed dramatically due to conversions to more second homes and vacation rentals in particular. The owners who are flipping houses in our neighborhood and the Realtors who broker these sales use the rental history as a major selling point. These sales have driven up house values and property taxes dramatically, making homes increasingly less affordable for local families. As a result of the revaluation of assessments in March 2018, the total tax bill on our home property increased by 46 percent. The taxes on the long-term rental home we own next door increased by 68 percent.
The current land use code states that in village and town residential districts, permitted uses are single- and two-family dwellings; all other uses are conditional uses requiring review and approval by the Joint Review Board. Bed/breakfast, multi-family residential and rooming/boarding house are noted in the code as conditional uses and are subject to review of potential impacts and subject to regulations as per the code. Vacation rental properties are not clearly defined in the definitions section of the land use code but seemingly would fall into one of these conditional uses.
Many vacation rentals are de facto businesses operating in residential districts. These properties have not been reviewed for their potential impacts on a residential district, are not being taxed as commercial, may not be paying commercial water and sewer rates, may be avoiding paying the sales and occupancy taxes that support the Convention and Visitors Bureau, have no parking restrictions and are not being inspected for health and fire safety. We were not surprised that the majority of people that spoke at the public hearing were operators of rental units; they have a vested business interest and have been able to operate without regulations and costs of operating a commercial housing unit. We were pleased that Jim Shea, Andy Teig and others asked the group and elected officials that they “think of the locals”; they are the silent majority.
There is a big difference between a local family renting out a few weeks a year in order to pay their taxes and non-resident owners operating properties year round as businesses in residential districts. The definition of these different uses will be critical in effective regulation and ultimately mitigating the negative effects on local residents and their neighborhoods.
For the most part, the proposed regulations will do little to bring back the already lost neighborhood of Hillcrest and may not save the yet-undiscovered neighborhoods ripe for a vacation rental market. The rental regulations and cost of a permit alone will be little hindrance to the financial gains of operating a year-round rental property business not subject to other commercial housing regulations and rates. We are concerned that without first establishing clear definitions in the code and review of rental properties for potential impacts, the granting of permits for a conditional use in a residential district will be setting a precedent that will in fact make it increasingly difficult to preserve the residential character of Lake Placid neighborhoods.
A lack of affordable housing is not unique to Lake Placid; it is a problem in resort areas all over the world. When shopkeepers, health care professionals, schoolteachers and other residents who make a community what it is can no longer afford to live there, that community is in danger of losing its soul. We know that many people who work in Lake Placid live in Saranac Lake, Keene and Wilmington due to the lack of affordable housing in Lake Placid. Affordable housing will be our biggest challenge going forward. Conversions of homes to vacation rentals has exacerbated a problem we already had, and at a minimum, these owners should be expected to pay the freight associated with operating a commercial property.
We believe that Lake Placid and North Elba should consider limiting or prohibiting or putting a moratorium on additional commercial uses in residential districts to preserve the character and affordability of these neighborhoods. We believe that properties used mainly as vacation rentals must be clearly defined in the zoning code and be subject to review prior to any permits issued. We have not seen this side of the topic reported on nor discussed publicly by the town and village officials.
The town of North Elba Planning Board’s rejection of the Walmart project in 1996 hinged on a single sentence in the land use code referencing the character of the community, and its decision was upheld in appellate court. Our elected officials have the responsibility to not only look after taxpayers’ financial interests but also character of the community, social concerns and sustainability. We understand that this is not an easy task, but we believe it can be done.
We appreciate the opportunity to share our experience and concerns. Thank you for the attention to this important issue.