Don’t change land use code

Re: Feb. 25 public hearing

We the people — the voters and residents, owners, renters and commercial businesses — need to become more vocal and involved. We need to press both the town of North Elba and the village of Lake Placid boards to stop with this nonsense of changing our land use code.

The law they are going to implement does not protect our neighborhoods from further encroachment of hotel/vacation rentals. The proposed revision of our land use code gives anyone who is not a full-time resident a license to operate a second or multiple home as a hotel/vacation rental anywhere in the town or village.

Unfortunately, some local people who spoke during the public hearing did not read the last page (pg. 12, 11.6, c.) of this proposed law. This paragraph exempts people who live in the home or on their property from all regulations except health and safety, and having to have a permit. These owners are not exempt from taxes such as the bed tax, state sales tax, the permit fee or building codes as New York state has defined. Currently, boarding houses, furnished rooms, rooming houses and tourist houses are in violation of New York sales tax law. They should be collecting and paying sales tax. See New York Sales Tax Publication 848, and New York State Lodging Definitions.

A group called Lake Placid Resident Hosts complained about the curfew hours in the law (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.). You are being given a gift by this law allowing you to rent to transient people. Your homes are in residential neighborhoods that do not allow rooming-boarding houses unless you apply for a variance. This is called a conditional use in our code. As a rooming-boarding house, you should be collecting and paying New York sales tax, according to New York Sales Tax Law Publication 848, page 8.

Other speakers from out of town who complained about a limit of 90 days should realize they are again being given a gift. They should not be operating their second home as a business at all in residential districts. If they could not afford the mortgage and taxes, they should not have purchased a second home. This is the kind of thinking that caused the problem in our nation’s housing crisis in 2008, when people over-extended themselves, and the banks and the mortgage companies did not do their due diligence verifying affordability.

So let’s talk nuts and bolts. This new land use code is very weak and poorly written. It does not limit the number of hotel/vacation rentals allowed in residential neighborhoods.

Page 2, 11.2, short-term rental standards. A(2):

There is no guidance in this law on how the code enforcement officer is going to track or monitor the 90-day rule for rental of hotel/vacation rentals. I have been in contact with companies that run an algorithm and collect data on hotel/vacation rentals. They can pinpoint the address of a hotel/vacation rental in the neighborhoods. Neighbors should not be forced to become a code enforcer when a hotel/vacation rental is operating without a permit or breaking the law.

Page 6, C, short-term rental standards:

There is no guidance in this law on how the code enforcement officer is going to verify or enforce the number of people including children at these hotel/vacation rentals. Again, neighbors should not be made into code enforcement officers. The person who is to oversee the hotel/vacation rental in case of emergency should be checking in with the transients upon arrival. I’m sorry, but this is the price of doing business.

Page 13, 11.6, paragraph C, short-term rental standards:

The new law is discriminatory to exempt Main Street hotel/vacation rentals from the new code Section 11.2A (5). There is no reason this should be allowed. If you are going to pass a land use code, it has to be fair to all the hotel/vacation rentals in the neighborhoods and in commercial zones.

Page 6, No. 11 of the short-term rental laws proposed:

The new law states the square footage of a bedroom has to be a minimum of 70 square feet. Is this square feet requirement for one or two persons? The new requirement does not state how many. U.S. Housing and Urban Development regulation states a minimum 50 squre feet per person. Also, not mentioned in the new code is the ceiling height of a bedroom ceiling. In HUD regulation and the International Code Council, which New York follows, a bedroom must meet the (7-foot) minimum height. This may eliminate many older cabins, accessory buildings, converted garages, attics and basements from being issued a permit. Any hotel/vacation rental building or buildings should not be given a permit until they meet all building codes. The code enforcement officer should be inspecting each and every hotel/vacation rental before granting a permit. Inspection is a must for health and safety to be guaranteed.

Now let me take you back in time to Dec. 20, 2010. This is when our land use code was adopted by both the town and the village. Mayor Randall was quoted in the village minutes, “This will be our bible.” If that statement was true then, it should be true today.

For a board member to say, “A bad law is better than no law,” is outrageous. On a personal note, this is why I believe in term limits. While the work and time that the boards have put into trying to come up with a fair and equitable solution to a major crisis in our community, it still falls short of giving the residents back their town. I must stress the importance of limiting the damage the vacation rentals have done to our town and village. There must be a provision that “stops the bleeding” in the permit/law. It is time to stop thinking how an action will benefit “me”,and seriously address the loss of our neighborhoods.

In closing, I wish I had more time to speak on this subject at the public hearing, but three minutes is not enough time for a person to get their points across to the joint boards. Our boards took an oath to enforce the 2011 land use code and have not done their due diligence in enforcing the code. Any permit issued should be a “temporary use permit.”

Fred Ace lives in Lake Placid.