A unique small town, eroded by Airbnb
To the editor:
Wilmington is a little town with old-fashioned charm, outstanding scenery and big-hearted people. You can often find locals fishing off the town bridge, biking on the Poor Man’s Downhill or paddling on the river. Although we have a ski mountain and a theme park, residents and visitors alike love Wilmington due to the serenity that our town provides.
While residents and visitors enjoy an Adirondack summer, our elected leaders are diligently ignoring the biggest problem in our community: Wilmington is a unique small town being steadily eroded by Airbnb.
We need look no further than our neighboring township to justify our concerns — because geographically, economically and socially, Lake Placid has been completely compromised.
In Lake Placid, very little is left for the locals. It seems as if tourists always come first; even many old family homes that hold countless precious memories are now only for tourists’ use. There is a wider divide between locals and tourists than in previous decades and there is a chasm between the community’s middle classes and its aristocracy.
And now, finally, we hear about its leaders’ belated attempts to update the Lake Placid / North Elba vacation rental ordinance in order to preserve homes for local families.
If Wilmington remains on its current course, our community will suffer the same fate.
Wilmington’s meek short-term rental (STR) ordinance is no match for the reality we are facing. Wilmington’s STR ordinance is a watered-down version of Lake Placid’s plainly insufficient local law. It is remarkable that Wilmington’s vacation rental ordinance is even more permissive than the outdated policies that Lake Placid and North Elba are working to improve.
There is an urgent need for housing in this region, including in Wilmington. Every STR is a place where a family could live, but instead of a home, it is a hotel. (At least Wilmington treats traditional hotels like the businesses they are. But corporate websites, management companies and Airbnb barons continue to hide behind a few frugal families with a spare room and a smile.) Wilmington currently has one small affordable housing project in the pipeline, which we appreciate. While it will make a difference for a few families, it won’t scratch the surface of what is needed. Meanwhile, the displacement of long-time locals has happened, is happening, and, without a change in our elected leaders’ focus and approach, will continue.
As long-time Lake Placid Village Board member and Wilmington native Jason Leon recently warned Wilmington’s leaders: “If you do not revisit and fine-tune your STR legislation, you will be turning a blind eye to a cancer that will hollow out the soul of your town.”
Those in power seem fixated on bolstering tourism no matter the costs to our community. But the tourism economy should be viewed as a tool to support local workers and their families — not vice versa.
We ask Wilmington’s leaders to turn their attention away from skating rinks, cosmetic improvements and tourist events, and to finally take a few modest steps to preserve housing for locals. Before Wilmington starts issuing two-year STR permits, the current version of the local law is locked into place and another two years of displacement are guaranteed, please seriously discuss and consider the following options at your next meeting:
¯ Treating STRs like the businesses they clearly are;
¯ Protecting certain parts of Wilmington from STRs;
¯ Requiring STR operators in areas zoned primarily for residential use to obtain a “use variance” from the Planning Board;
¯ Limiting the total number of STR permits issued annually;
¯ Pausing the issuance of permits until the town’s STR ordinance is modernized and improved with input from Wilmington’s new town board members;
¯ Requiring fair fees from STR operators to decrease the property tax burden on middle class homeowners and full-time residents, and;
¯ Creating a balanced committee — composed of a mix of people who are operating residential properties as businesses and a diverse group of residents who do not own and operate hotel-like businesses — to ensure that ideas, questions, concerns, and solutions are heard loud and clear.
We are community members who love Wilmington dearly. In fact, it is only because we love Wilmington that we are imploring our town board to stop ignoring the ongoing displacement of local families and act immediately to protect our town.
If you ignore this letter, you will do a grave disservice to your constituents, to your community and to your community’s future. Wilmington’s out-of-date STR policies must be modernized — before two-year permits are issued.
Christina Anderson, Lora Bushy, Sara Duensing and Benjamin Hobday, Max Eaton, Lynn Fowler, Stephanie Gates, Edward Geserick, Nancy Gonyea, Karissa and Ryan Gray, Beth Kress, Brigette Levitt, Megan and Keith Lyon, Kelly and James Miner, Mary and Terry Murphy, Joseph Rumble, Zuzka Schaffer, Guy Stephenson, Chelsea Walker, Richard Whitney, Joe Wichtowski, Pamela Winch, Patricia and Edward Winch, Daniel Winkler