With 2018 behind us, Woodstock Supervisor Bill McKenna took a bit of time out of his schedule to look ahead to what the new year will bring.
Woodstockers and visitors all survived a summer of rattled teeth as they drove over a gravel Mill Hill Road torn up for reconstruction and constantly washed out by relentless rain. The supervisor himself even pitched in, grabbing a shovel and filling holes one wet Saturday afternoon, and in the end, all have been served with a smooth road free of potholes (thus far), and the bonus of added parking along the downhill side of Mill Hill Road.
“We got most of the road work in town out of the way this year,” McKenna said. “I’m hoping for the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock, we have construction-free roads in the middle of town.” That leaves the Mink Hollow bridge replacement and the finishing work on Reynolds Lane as the remaining road projects to be completed in the new year.
“We’re working on getting a temporary bridge put in there, hopefully sooner rather than later,” McKenna said of Mink Hollow. The Highway Department recently secured nearly $750,000 in grants to replace the bridge that is rapidly deteriorating. “We’re hoping sometime by the end of the summer we’re starting construction there,” McKenna said.
Construction crews didn’t quite get finished with a culvert replacement on Reynolds Lane before winter arrived, so it will take another couple weeks of work including paving.
The town recently got word on a $250,000 grant for reed beds to increase the effectiveness of the wastewater treatment plant. The town now needs to truck sludge at great expense to Albany for further treatment. The reed beds allow for further treatment by promoting growth of bacteria to digest sewage, eliminating the need for transport. Depending on test results, the resulting material can potentially be sold or offered as topsoil. The project was held up because the DEC required native reeds and the ones originally proposed were considered invasive.
“It’s making its way through the DEC permit process. It’s been a rather slow process but I think I see daylight,” McKenna said. “I’m hoping late winter/early spring we’re going out to bid on that.”
In the coming months, McKenna and the Town Board also plan to assemble committees to study cell coverage expansion in the western part of town, improvements to zoning and addressing affordable housing.
Comeau office rehab on the horizon
“Once we get a breather, I had mentioned last year, the next project I hope to see us working on was renovations of these buildings,” he said from the supervisor’s cottage overlooking the Comeau Preserve. “Our employees work in a great spot up here,” he said as the late-afternoon winter sun could be seen through the window. “But they’re not handicapped accessible. They’re not energy efficient. I’d just like to make those changes.”
Added McKenna, “I’d like to bring everybody upstairs down. I don’t see us starting that project next year, but it’s one that I hope we can move forward a little bit more.”
Responding to short-term rental growth
The Town Board’s Short-Term Rental Committee recently drafted a set of regulations intended to get a handle on the proliferation of property rentals made popular by such listing sites as Airbnb. It requires registration and regular fire and safety inspections and accountability should unruly revelers cause complaints. It also attempts to curb the practice of buying property for the sole purpose of short-term rental, something committee chair Richard Heppner is worried will destroy neighborhoods because nobody will be invested in the community. The regulations, which require changes to the zoning law, were forwarded to the Planning Board for review.
“We hope to have that back from them sometime in January and consider their recommendations, then move forward with a public hearing,” McKenna said.
It’s a cause for concern when long-term residents are displaced, McKenna conceded, which is why he favored the 180-day limit proposed on short-term rentals for non-owner-occupied properties.
A property on Rock City Road was recently sold and the new owner converted apartments that existed for several decades into short-term rentals.
“That is unfortunate. That’s part of what we’re looking at with the Airbnbs,” McKenna said. “On the flip side…I do know a number of people who jumped on the short-term rental bandwagon and they’re not doing it now. It’s more work than you think. There’s not a pot of gold under every rainbow.
“If you have an ideal location, you can make some good money,” McKenna said. “Something like 10 percent of the short-term rental hosts in NYC make 80 percent of the revenue. And the point is that 10 percent was raking in all that cash and the other 90 percent had the odd rental.”
McKenna said the short-term rental craze has gone beyond its origins, which was to help people with their expenses. “I don’t have a problem if somebody wants to buy a weekend house and they rent it out once a month or so to help pay their taxes and pay the expenses. That’s how Airbnb started,” he said. “Likewise if you have a couple of extra bedrooms in your house and you rent one out occasionally to help pay the bills…that’s what home sharing was all about.”
McKenna said Woodstock is a “great brand,” which is what keeps people coming here and is what’s driving the market. “People love the area. We’ve got natural beauty. We’ve got a good government base and we’re two hours from NYC. It really offers a lot and I think that’s why it’s been so popular for so many years and why it will stay popular,” he said.
To deal with the growth in the vacation rental market and influx of new stores and restaurants, the town is in talks with candidates and expects to hire an additional building inspector soon. “When you look at the fees the entire department brings in, it’s justified to have a second inspector there,” McKenna said. “They did over $100,000 worth of building permit fees. And then when you add the operating permits and everything else, it doesn’t quite cover everything but it justifies. It’s all about health, safety and welfare.”
McKenna sees the building inspector as the consumer advocate to make sure when someone hires a builder, they do a good job and it’s safe. “With this new inspector we hope to focus a little bit more on the zoning. I point out to people, for a long time we had three inspectors over there. When the recession hit and we were down to just Ellen, things slowed down and it all worked out,” McKenna said. “But as things heated up, we’re stuck with the 2 percent cap and it made it hard to build that department back up until now. But really it’s a necessity and a good zoning law is a benefit to the entire community.”
Open to suggestions
At the annual organizational meeting, McKenna asked the board if they have any pet projects. The Geezer Corps have talked about a foot bridge across from Woodstock Hardware as an example.
“We have some funding for that and I’m optimistic if we do it in-house and the Geezers have some part of it we’ll be able to cover that cost,” he said.
The town brought in nearly $1 million in grants this year, thanks to hard work of employees, and Bill wants to “take it up a notch.”
McKenna’s secretary, Kerry Muldoon and Heather Eighmey from the Highway Department will attend grant-writing classes to hone their already excellent skills.
“I see us humming along the way we’ve been doing the last few years, trying to give the taxpayer the most for their tax dollar,” McKenna said. “That was a quote from (former Supervisor) Jeremy (Wilber) and one I ascribe to.”