Some property owners call the town’s proposed short-term rental regulation overreaching while long-time residents say they’re being forced out in the pursuit of the almighty buck.
People who fear losing remaining affordable-housing options, homeowners trying to earn enough to pay their property taxes and those who earn a living from short-term rentals packed into the standing-room-only meeting room on Comeau Drive for a March 12 public hearing on the proposed changes.
Urana Kinlen said she lives in one of the only remaining affordable year-round rentals and fears losing the people who give the town its character.
“A lot of people are being forced out of their homes,” she said. “A lot of folks I know have left the town.” Kinlen was appointed to serve on the town’s new housing committee to come up with solutions.
One way to provide more housing is through accessory apartments, as suggested by housing committee member Bob Young. Town Board candidate Conor Wenk has envisioned a town-owned complex of tiny homes that could be available on a rent-to-own basis.
The new regulations define a short-term rental as anything less than 30 days and require such units to obtain an operating permit and be subject to fire and safety inspections.
No caps are specifically written into the law, but the Town Board is authorized to set yearly limits on the number of short-term rentals in town, which now is somewhere in the range of 450 according to county data. The new laws also limit non-owner-occupied rentals to 180 days a year or 26 weekends, an attempt to limit real estate speculators from forming companies and buying up property for the sole purpose of short-term rentals.
While some owners say it’s too limiting, Supervisor Bill McKenna said such absentee rentals are illegal under current law.
Many pointed out a search for “Woodstock” in Airbnb nets almost double that number, but Councilman Richard Heppner, who chairs the short-term rental committee, said many places listed as Woodstock aren’t in the town.
Sense of community vs. stimulating economy
Short-term rentals are nothing new in this town, as longtime resident Rachel Marco-Havens notes. But it was different. There was a sense of belonging.
“We actually had a thriving recurring summer community,” she said. Now, she sees a big change. “We have empty houses that were once homes,” she said, noting frequently streets are empty after 6 p.m. while “there are more bars than you can count.”
But some, like Martin Mills of the White Dove Rockotel pointed out the boost short-term rentals give to the economy. He estimates over $1 million coming into the community as guests spend money at the shops and restaurants.
Ryan Giuliani, who owns the Shindig restaurant and is a partner in the Woodstock Way hotel complex, also touted the economic benefits of short-term rentals. He said the proposed regulations so far are good, but “capping is probably not a smart move.”
But Marco-Havens said there is an imbalance between people who built the community and those who move here and try to manufacture what it once was. “It’s really difficult to sit here and listen to how awesome it is that you’re all making money,” she said.
Then there are those like Robert Houst, who said he fixed up a derelict building that otherwise would have been torn down and put it on the short-term rental market. He had no idea being absent from the property made his new endeavor illegal. “In the last five years we’ve had hundreds of guests. We’ve had no incidents. No complaints,” Houst said.
Some say they are just trying to make ends meet and pay the bills.
Tinker Street resident Kerry Henderson, who co-founded the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice and has started many other festivals in the area, rents some apartments in his home like many others.
“Airbnb helps them to stay here and contribute to the community,” he said.
James Morrison of Mill Hill Road said he welcomes regulation, but is concerned it can lead to outright bans as enacted in other communities. “We need it to stay here,” he said.
Some like John Allen, who purchased a home on Ohayo Mountain Road, said the extra rental income allows him to work away from their Brooklyn home. “There’s no way we can continue if we don’t let other people use our home when we can’t,” he said.
Sharkie’s Meatballs owner Mark Rosenberg said his income depends on the tourist economy, which is helped by the short-term rentals. “I went into a great amount of debt to live here and start a business here,” he said.
McKenna said the town doesn’t want to keep people from making ends meet, paying their taxes and remaining a part of the community. It’s those who chase after the money that are the problem. “We don’t want people coming up to Woodstock just to buy houses to rent out,” he said. “It’s where they’re not coming up here at all. They just coming to pick up a check.”
The board nodded in agreement.
“If you get to where the real estate consortiums are buying up everything in town, we’re toast,” Councilman Lorin Rose said.
This wasn’t the last opportunity to speak about short-term rentals. The public hearing will be continued at a future Town Board meeting.