The Town of Gardiner adopted the current iteration of its Zoning Code in 2008: the same year that Airbnb, Inc. was founded. No one involved in the drafting of the code anticipated back then how radically the landscape of tourist accommodation options was about to change — that within a decade, “glamping” would become a popular option, or that cellphone apps would be created for the express purpose of enabling travelers to “couch-surf.” In the past couple of years, applications have been submitted to the town for real estate developments catering to visitors who want to take advantage of these trends, and local officials have been finding themselves at a loss for adequate guidance in local law.
Beginning with a joint meeting of the Town Board, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals in December 2017, Gardiner has been taking steps toward clarifying the language of the Zoning Code to make it more applicable to this changing spectrum of transient residential usage. The Albany-based law firm of Young/Sommer, LLC was retained to review existing local law regarding temporary housing and to recommend changes. At the October 9 Town Board meeting, attorney Allyson M. Phillips presented the results of that review to Gardiner officials. The documents prepared by Young/Sommer can be viewed in their entirety on the town’s website at www.townofgardiner.org.
According to the law firm’s findings, many of Gardiner’s difficulties in evaluating the potential impact of such recent applications as the proposed Heartwood resort, which would mesh a wedding/event venue with rustic “eco-cabin” sleeping accommodations, are caused by vagueness in definitions of facilities and uses. The report recommends, for example, using specific definitions for “hotel” and “motel” instead of the catchall “lodging facility.” Day camps and overnight camps need to be distinguished. To deal with the “glamping” issue, the law needs to clarify what category will include a semi-permanent lodging structure such as a yurt set up on a wooden platform: Is it more like a tent or more like a tourist cabin? Such clarity will assist the town’s code enforcement officer and the various boards in their determinations as to what types of development are allowable in a particular situation.
In addition to better definitions, Young/Sommer’s report recommends that the town “consider adopting specific density requirements for campground-like uses” and address inconsistencies regarding stream setbacks, which have been a point of contention in the Heartwood proposal, which would perch eco-cabins on a ridge above the Shawangunk Kill.
Adoption of a local law specifically to regulate short-term rentals is also included in the recommendations, with such suggested provisions as requiring an annual license or permit, durational limitations and owner occupation or a local contact to respond to complaints. During recent Town Board discussions of noise complaints from residents, Airbnb rental sites in Gardiner hosting raucous late-night parties have been frequently cited as repeat offenders.
“The Town Board is going to take a look at tweaking the code,” promised town supervisor Marybeth Majestic after Phillips presented the law firm’s findings. “This is Step One. The Town Board has to do its homework on these definitions.”