On December 3, the Shandaken town board voted unanimously — with one member, Peter DiSclafani, absent — to table a shared services resolution that would enable Ulster County to release data on the town’s homes being used as Airbnbs and other short-term rentals (STRs). The postponement of the resolution came in response to demands by local STR owners that they be shown the document specifying what the county is requiring in return for providing the information. The owners also asked to be represented on the town’s committee charged with crafting regulations for STRs.
Raised voices were sometimes heard in the back-and-forth between members of the recently formed Phoenicia Home Sharing Association (PHSA) and the two officials present who serve on the STR committee. A local commercial bed-and-breakfast owner joined in, stating that STRs are taking business away from what he called “legitimate” lodging establishments and calling for STRs to be subject to the same taxes, inspections, and other requirements as hotels and bed-and-breakfast businesses.
Town supervisor Rob Stanley introduced the resolution for the shared services agreement by stating that the STR committee had not begun to work on regulations but was still gathering information. Once a shared services agreement is in place, the county will furnish the data collected by a firm hired to compile a list of local STRs. A questionnaire will be sent to all town residents before any regulations are formulated, and a public hearing will solicit further comments on proposed regulations.
Kerry Henderson of Phoenicia read a statement on behalf of the PHSA, asking that the resolution be tabled until an STR owner could be appointed to the committee to ensure “a fair and balanced process.” He questioned the selection process of the committee members.
Chichester resident Brian Powers suggested that the committee has an intrinsic bias against STRs because Stanley, who owns a local inn, has acted as a spokesperson for the Belleayre Region Lodging and Tourist Association (BRLTA). “If you’re going to send out questionnaires, the formation has to reflect the input of a lot of perspectives. You get responses you ask for to reach a predetermined result.” He also said it seemed the regulation process was being “fast-tracked.”
Town board member Kevin Van Blarcum, who serves on the committee, said it was back in the spring that a town resident spoke up with complaints about Airbnb neighbors making noise, trespassing, and leaving out trash that was scattered by bears. It wasn’t until three months later that the board voted to form the committee.
Stanley said the committee was composed of the highway superintendent, building inspector, and members of the planning, zoning, and town boards, since those boards have received complaints about STRs. The committee has met only three times, the last scheduled meeting failing to garner a quorum, which turned it into a discussion with the STR owners in the audience. “We’re looking into it and compiling data,” he said, “not going after STRs. We have nothing written, no draft regulations. We’re still trying to get a questionnaire together.”
Powers expressed concern about the provisions of the shared services agreement, stating, “There may be things in the document the town has to do in exchange for the information. We haven’t seen it, and the town board has it.”
“They’re not telling us to regulate,” Stanley replied. “The county does not impose zoning laws. If we decide to regulate, the county has asked that we give them information on who is permitted to have a rental,” in order to help the county enforce collection of the two percent bed tax.
Henderson said the PHSA would like to see the document, and Stanley agreed to give them a copy and to postpone the vote on the resolution so the owners would have time to consider the agreement.
STR owner James Kopp said if the town wanted to limit the committee to officials, they could work with a two-tier structure, bringing in representatives from the three hospitality entities — hotels, BNBs, and STRs — to consult when considering regulations. The representatives would serve as liaisons between the committee and their respective organizations. “That way you could have a formal exchange of information without ten people popping up and down in the meetings. We’re looking for a fair and balanced process.”
Scott Fawaz, president of BRLTA and proprietor of the Alpine Osteria Bed-and-Breakfast in Highmount, said it appears that Airbnb hosts do not pay the county’s eight percent sales tax, as hotels and BNBs do. “It’s not fair to the legitimate hotels. And I’ve noticed I’m losing business. I have former regular guests who do Airbnb because of money. I don’t think Airbnb owners care about what happens to hotels.” Later he said he would be “up for short-term rental if the playing field is leveled, if they’re paying the proper amount of taxes, having inspections, and the owner is present.”
Fawaz said his main objection was to STRs in which the owner does not live in the home being rented. Board member Faye Storms said she took her own rental property off Airbnb and turned it into a long-term rental to support the needs of locals seeking affordable housing.
The next meeting of the STR committee is scheduled for Monday, December 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall. The meeting is open to the public but not open to public discussion.