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North Elba is a wonderful community — if we can keep it

Thank you to all who supported, in ways large and small, my campaign for North Elba town supervisor. Special thanks to Cathy LaMare, to my family, to the friends and volunteers who went above and beyond, and of course to the 318 voters who put their trust in me.

Your time, belief and support is an enormous honor. It means the world to me.

Bryan “Liam” Kennelly deserves mention as someone who truly went the extra two miles as a supporter, friend and activist. His knowledge of local issues and the mechanics of grassroots political organizing is almost equivalent to his level of energy.

He has a bright future and will continue to make a name for himself locally and perhaps beyond.

North Elba is improved when people like Bryan choose to — and are able to — stay here as adults, instead of drifting away to other communities due to better opportunities, better housing options, any housing options, etc.

Thank you, Liam.

Congratulations to the winners. Jay Rand ran a good campaign, and Emily Kilburn-Politi should be proud of her impressive margin of victory. Another member of the next generation of North Country leaders who was born and raised here, she has all the skills necessary to make an impact on the public stage, if she wants to. I look forward to her eventual congressional campaign.

To Rik Cassidy and Bob Rafferty: Thank you for taking a strong, clear stance on short-term rentals and making that stance the center of your campaigns.

To Derek Doty: I appreciate your call to use the former Lake Placid hospital property for affordable housing. I hope you will advocate using the entire lot for that purpose.

We have enough space devoted to elite athletes and Olympic Regional Development Authority offices. Let’s do something for regular folks.

To the supervisor-elect: I must say that I was disappointed by your radio ad stating that “tourism is the heart and soul” of our town. I hope that was a misstatement, and I hope you will be a leader whose actions show that you believe that neighborhoods, public schools, workers and families are the true heart and soul of North Elba.

I was surprised, Jay, that you made reining in short-term rentals (STRs) the theme of your campaign in the final days before the election. I wish you had brought that focus to the issue several years ago.

The draft STR regulations are far too weak to adequately address the problem. We should look to the stronger laws already enacted by other communities as a better “draft” to push back against absentee property owners who wish to run unlicensed hotels.

The current draft is a draft for more depopulation and decline.

Let’s tweak our zoning codes to keep “residential” neighborhoods residential, not block after block of hotels rented out online. Businesses are businesses, residences are residences, zoning codes exist for a reason, and everyone who looks at these issues honestly should understand that.

Neighborhoods should be the sites of homes, not hotels.

All that said, Jay, I respect your many accomplishments and your many years of public service. There is no shame in losing an election to a good man.

I urge you to keep the needs of longtime (and full-time) residents, working people (including blue-collar workers and service-industry workers), public schools and middle-class families close to your heart during your tenure, and I wish you all the best.

To the community: If you would grant me a moment of your time, I would like to briefly state the central point of my campaign, for the permanent record.

In 2011, the Saranac Lake School District enrolled an estimated 1,300 students at the start of the school year. This year, that number was 1,163. That’s 137 fewer kids in less than a decade.

In 2011, officials at Lake Placid’s public schools expected 700 students on the first day of classes. This year, they planned for only 606.

The current kindergarten class in Lake Placid only has 24 children.

This statistic should be recognized for what it is — a blaring alarm.

North Elba should be one of the most vibrant communities in the entire state.

What has gone wrong?

Meanwhile, the small village of Lake Placid already has more than 700 short-term rental units, and the number in Saranac Lake has exploded as well — from about 100 in 2016 to more than 250 in 2019.

This is not a coincidence.

It is increasingly difficult for people with average incomes to live in North Elba, and the way the STR boom has distorted the housing market is a large part of the problem.

We have plenty of “facts” and “data.”

It is time for action.

Short-term rentals are a problem in towns and cities around the nation. Many places are far ahead of North Elba in terms of addressing the issue.

Some communities (including Boston and parts of New Orleans, a place that presumably relies on tourism just as much as we do in Essex County) have adopted regulations that limit STRs to buildings in which the owner actually resides.

I hope at least a few members of the new town council are prepared to push hard for this common-sense approach.

Let’s be honest: Airbnbs owned by people who live far away are really just unlicensed hotels.

To the staff of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Lake Placid News: Thank you. You have a difficult and generally thankless job. Thanks to Peter Crowley, who moderated the candidates’ forum like a pro and has published some very important editorials in recent months (including “Support 20-somethings; build apartments,” on Sept. 14), and thanks to Elizabeth Izzo, who is an excellent young reporter.

(All the numbers cited above were first reported in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. You don’t need a hired consultant to tell you that we need affordable housing; that we have more than enough Airbnbs in Lake Placid; that there is a well-recognized workforce shortage due to the cost of housing; or that longtime locals are tired of seeing neighbors, friends, family members, service-sector workers, middle-class families and young people get pushed out of our community due to a housing market distorted by the widespread conversion of existing homes and apartments into Airbnbs. You can learn all that information merely by reading the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Lake Placid News. Thank you for all you do for our towns, LPN and ADE.)

I enjoyed getting out and about and meeting so many people during this campaign. Thanks to all those who took the time to talk with me about our town.

Though I have not even discussed the operation, budget and mission of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, that’s probably about enough for now. I have many more thoughts, hopes, opinions and expressions of appreciation I would like to convey, but I will simply conclude by saying that I hope the new town council makes significant progress on the closely related issues of preserving and increasing our stock of affordable housing and dialing back the explosion of short-term rentals.

The solution is not to encourage even more working-class and middle-class people to move to Franklin County, Clinton County, AuSable Forks or Jay. Nor is the answer to rely even more on workers who take buses in from Malone or visit from abroad.

People should not have to travel long distances to work in North Elba. They deserve a home here, too.

I remain a proud native son of North Elba: a wonderful community — if we can keep it.

We will see what happens.

Gary Kaltenbach lives in Lake Placid.