Woodstockers filled Town Hall to once again raise their concerns over proposed short-term rental regulations that pits residents seeking affordable long term housing against those trying to make a business out of the shared economy — though a great many of those are just trying to rent a room or two to afford the tax bill and keep their homes.
The Town Board reopened a public hearing on the changes and heard from a renter about to lose her apartment so her landlord can cash in on the hot short-term rental market. It also heard some tout the economic advantages of attracting New York City residents to spend their disposable income in the many establishments that have opened in recent years.
While it seems nearly impossible to find an apartment that meets the increasingly flexible definition of “affordable” in a town with less than 1 percent long-term vacancy, not all are convinced short-term rentals are the culprit.
Woodstock is so close to the city, it’s driving up the prices, said Roberta Houst, who fixed up a derelict structure with her husband Robert solely for the short-term market.
Robert Houst voiced opposition to a proposed limit of 128 days or 26 weekends for those properties that are not owner-occupied, such as his. “Are you going to give me a reduction on my taxes because I can’t rent for the rest of the year?” he asked.
The proposed law, which consists mainly of zoning changes, classifies a short-term rental separately from the currently legal bed-and-breakfasts and requires a yearly registration fee and health and safety inspections. It also legalizes non-owner-occupied rentals with the 128-day/26-weekend cap. Many such rentals now exist under the radar.
The new law also limits short-term rentals to one non-occupied per owner, a cap intended to keep people from buying up several homes and leading to the destruction of neighborhoods.
John Ludwig pointed to what he believed to be a big loophole that allows owners to set up several corporations to get around the cap. While Supervisor Bill McKenna has stated those will be found in the permit application process, Ludwig said it needs to be part of the law.
Some property owners, like Eric Erickson, have taken the hybrid approach to rentals, offering some long-term units at below-market rates and using income from short-term rentals to make up the difference. In those situations, the 180-day limitation may put people on the street. Erickson’s short-term rental is necessary to offset his other rentals.
“That’s the reason we can afford to have low-income rentals,” he said.
Ed Sanders spoke in favor of the regulations, saying they strike a balance between those trying to keep their properties and the need for affordable long-term housing. Many struggling artists can make ends meet by renting a room or two. “These regulations will support that,” he said.
Some, including property owners, voiced support for charging a bed tax on top of the county tax with the proceeds going to a fund to establish permanent low-income housing.
McKenna, though acknowledging it’s a good idea, said the town’s hands are tied.
“The state does not allow for towns to have their own sales tax,” he said. Cities can do it. Towns cannot.”
Town board: We hear you
“We are listening. We are gathering what you said,” Councilwoman Laura Ricci said as the public hearing was closed.
“These are the kinds of meetings that really show the strength of Woodstock,” Councilman and Short-term Rental Committee Chair Richard Heppner said. “We’re thinking about community. We’re thinking about neighborhoods. We’re thinking about next-door neighbors.”
Councilman Reggie Earls said it’s about “trying to preserve this town being a place where everyone is welcome.”
Councilman Lorin Rose said it’s about striking a balance. “If I lived in the woods all my life and somebody wants to throw a party next to me, am I supposed to feel good about it because they are going to your restaurants?” he asked.
McKenna complimented everyone on maintaining a civil conversation. “I can’t say there’s ever been a screaming match and that says a lot,” he said.
McKenna asked the board to review the proposals and suggest possible changes for review in the next week or two.
The town will hold another public hearing prior to enacting the law or any changes.