The Woodstock Town Board took its first real look at proposed regulations on short-term rentals made popular by such sites as Airbnb, beginning discussion of fees and possible yearly caps.
The Short Term Rental Committee came up with a series of regulations to address issues caused mainly by absentee landowners that rent a few rooms or an entire house. With nobody to address unruly tenants, loud summer parties have become an issue.
A short-term rental is defined as one lasting 30 days or less. Under current town zoning, short-term rental of an entire home is illegal when the owner is not present.
Under proposed regulations, all those who operate a short-term rental must register with the town whether they are on-site or not.
The committee proposed the establishment of a Short Term Rental Office to handle registration and enforcement of regulations, such as fire and safety inspections. To fund administration and enforcement, the proposed fee is $100 per room per year for owner-occupied homes and $150 per room per year for non-occupied homes.
Written into the proposal is a cap, though an exact number is still up for discussion, as is a decision whether to include those where the owner lives on the property.
The exact cap figure depends on determining the number of short-term rentals operating in town.
The county is going to make powerful software available that will cross check short-term rentals available on all the major listing platforms with those that are registered. This will give the town a better number on which to base a cap and a tool to deal with unregistered rentals.
“We will have a way of tracking everybody,” Committee Chair Richard Heppner said.
There are 250 rentals listed on Airbnb alone, Heppner said.
Resident Liam Kahn said although he loves Airbnb, he is in favor of a cap because the popularity of short term rentals is pushing up property values and making it harder for younger generations to afford year-round housing, many of whom have less purchasing power and no savings.
It’s not just younger people, he points out. It’s also longtime residents. “My own mother is being forced out of her home because she can’t afford the taxes,” Kahn said, noting his mother has tried to rent it though Airbnb to help meet expenses.
“Part of the reason towns regulate is to create a balance between long-term and short-term rentals,” said Heppner, who noted other communities have opted for an outright ban of short-term rentals.
Committee member Ed Sanders said the majority of the panel are in favor of some sort of cap, while Heppner noted case-by-case exceptions can be made for the grandmother on a fixed income who rents an accessory apartment to make ends meet.
Committee member Paul Shultis suggested setting some of the registration fees aside for an affordable housing fund to help out some of the younger people in town who are trying to rent a first apartment. With first month, last month and security often required, a prospective renter may need to come up with $3000 or more.
Specifics, such as whether owner-occupied homes will be part of a cap and some needed zoning law tweaks, will be discussed in later meetings.
Other members of the Short Term Rental Committee are Supervisor’s Secretary Kerry Muldoon, Councilman Lorin Rose and real estate agent Laurie Ylvisaker.
Noise ordinance passes
Over Councilman Jay Wenk’s objections, the Town Board passed a new noise ordinance, giving police something that the board feels is enforceable when responding to complaints.
“A lot of the language needs to be changed,” said Wenk, who has objected to language he calls too vague, such as “unreasonable.” Wenk plans to submit revisions, though those likely won’t be considered until the law is revisited for effectiveness in the next six months.
One of Wenk’s major objections is the lack of attention to loud motorcycles on summer days. He said he has gone into the police department and talked “over and over again” about the need to address illegal motorcycle exhaust pipes.
Wenk noted a spot check is easy and only requires a long stick pushed up the exhaust pipe. If it meets resistance, the proper baffles are in place and it is legal. If it can be pushed up the pipe with no issue, it is not legal.
McKenna said it’s not appropriate to address motorcycles in the noise ordinance because it is already covered in the state motor vehicle law. McKenna said he is willing to set up a meeting with the police to discuss enforcement of noisy motorcycles.
As stated in the noise ordinance, “no person, with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, shall cause, suffer, allow or permit to be made unreasonable noise. For purposes of this chapter, unreasonable noise is any disturbing, excessive, or offensive sound that disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivities.”
It also bans “any unnecessary noise from any source between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. the following day,” noise from pets or burglar alarms for more than 15 minutes, limits construction to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. except in emergencies and bars outdoor power equipment in residential areas between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. weekdays and 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. weekends.
Of particular concern during recent public comment was how the law would affect a growing music scene in town, since it prohibits “excessive or unreasonable level of noise from any live music or sound reproduction system, operating or playing any radio, portable radio or tape player, television, tape deck or similar device that reproduces or amplifies sound.”
McKenna and others have stressed it is not law’s intent to shut down live music and the language is purposefully vague in some cases to give police the ability to use discretion.
“I spoke with some police officers. They have no problem enforcing it,” Heppner said.
McKenna: I’m sorry
The supervisor apologized for the way he handled the April 17 public hearing, acknowledging his temper is something he is striving to improve. During that meeting, he disagreed with musician Jordan Roque and abruptly closed the hearing.
McKenna said the situation “could have been handled better.”
For future meetings, a list of the rules will be made available and McKenna said he’ll make sure to stick to them. “For instance, we’ve always tried to stick to a two minute time limit for each person. I’ve already asked (Town Clerk) Jackie (Earley) to monitor that a little better.”