As the summer tourist season gets an early start, town officials await a legal opinion on whether existing laws have enough teeth to curb short-term rentals that have become a nuisance to longtime residents.
For the most part, bed-and-breakfast type establishments aren’t a problem because the owner is there to keep tenants in check. The problem is those who rent their homes short-term and do not live in them. Popular short-term rental websites like Airbnb have made it easier for property owners because the site makes it simple to list in exchange for a small percentage of the rental.
Supervisor Jeremy Wilber believes rooms available for short-term rental from largely absentee landlords fits the definition of a hotel, which is illegal in almost all areas but the central hamlet district. Tenants have little or no consideration from their neighbors because they pack up and leave at the end of the weekend.
“If we turn all our homes into hotels, we’re not going to be a community anymore,” Wilber said.
The discussion was sparked by Jill Fisher, a Broadview Road resident who wanted to know what the town is doing to address the growing problem.
“I’m hearing screams and incredible noise going on and on,” said Fisher who lives next to a parcel with three buildings full of rooms rented to weekend revelers. Fisher is worried she will lose a good neighbor to the noise and disturbances.
“I’d be happy to help research what other communities are doing to address this,” said Fisher, who is chair of the library board’s Building Committee and has experience in civil planning.
“I understand it’s an important economic activity for our town, but so are real estate values and quality of life,” Fisher said.
“Nothing seems to have changed,” said Will Shepler, the Broadview Road neighbor Fisher is worried about losing. Shepler, who complained to the board last year, said he is moving until the problem is resolved. In the meantime, he plans to make his home available for long-term rental.
Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli recently attended a meeting with County Comptroller Eliot Auerbach, who confirmed Woodstock has the highest number of bed-and-breakfasts in the county. Within a few months, the county is going to start charging a 2 percent tax to bed-and-breakfasts and will require them to register. At least that will make sure they are following safety regulations, Magarelli said.
But, as Planning Board member Paul Shultis Jr. noted, the town will have difficulty getting people running quasi-hotels to come forward and register. Instead, it will be a matter of enforcement when people complain about a property.
Councilman Bill McKenna said he sympathizes with people who are dealing with unruly renters because his family has to put up with partying and loud music from a nearby short-term rental property.
Wilber presented Route 212 Coalition organizers Jennifer Quednau and Shayna Micucci with certificates of appreciation for their part in fighting the heroin epidemic as it hits Woodstock and has already taken the lives of area youth.
“When a community rises and decides it’s going to try to do something, it can’t guarantee success,” Wilber said. “It can’t guarantee to save all lives, but it’s not just going to sit back and placidly let this thing roll over us and kill people without trying to do something.”
Wilber called Quednau and Micucci “two of the most remarkable young women I’ve ever had the privilege to know in my entire life and who I feel deserve the gratitude and the recognition of this town board.”
The Route 212 Coalition was founded to discover ways to tackle the problem and find ways to get people help. The coalition worked with the Police Department which adopted a policy where officers will seek treatment for those who come the police station looking for help with opiate and opioid addiction. Through the state Good Samaritan law, those seeking assistance will not be arrested. Volunteers called angels will offer support while police try and locate treatment options.
Those seeking help will be searched and any drugs will be confiscated, but people won’t face drug possession charges.
As Wilber noted, this policy doesn’t get dealers off the hook.
“This does not in any way lessen the police department’s mission to extricate the sale of drugs in our town,” he said. “If you’re a drug dealer, you’re going to be gone after just as severely now as you ever were before.”
Zoning changes in the town’s future
Last year, the Planning Board recommended a series of zoning changes, particularly in light commercial districts, to encourage growth.
The Town Board declared itself lead agency for the purposes of reviewing potential environmental impact the changes may bring. Wilber noted people will have plenty of time to offer comments when public hearings are scheduled.
Those changes will not include a proposed aquifer protection district. But, some comments to the contrary, it is not off the table.
The Planning Board is seeking the advice of legal counsel to determine how such a district would work with the existing Wetlands and Watercourse Law, according to Planning Board Chairman John LaValle. Once legal details are sorted, the Town Board will act on the aquifer district separately.
Reprioritizing flood resilience
The Town Board voted to divert $200,000 from a scrapped project to other areas in town as part of $3 million in aid from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, or GOSR, through the state’s New York Rising program. Money was made available to communities in the wake of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy so that they could be better prepared for weather disasters.
The town identified culverts on Lane Road and Reynolds Lane, storm drainage on Mill Hill Road and raising the roadway on John Joy Road.
An engineering study found the John Joy remediation would jeopardize properties further upstream, so now $200,000 is available for other projects.
Chairs for sale
Anyone in need of plastic chairs should contact the Town Clerk’s office. The town has a surplus of chairs that were once used at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center. It plans to offer them to the fire or library districts and will entertain bids for the remaining chairs. Sealed bids per chair should be delivered to the town clerk no later than June 21 at 4 p.m. No fax or email bids will be accepted.