Owners of Shandaken businesses and short-term rentals (STRs) confronted town supervisor Rob Stanley at the June 3 town board meeting, objecting to the lack of an STR representative on the committee that has been considering regulations for such properties and alleging inadequate publicity for the survey designed to solicit opinions on the topic from town residents. Stanley said once the survey results are in, a new committee will be formed and will include members of the public as well as town officials.
Members of the planning, zoning, and town boards, plus the building inspector, have been meeting since last fall to discuss whether to regulate STRs by such measures as requiring registration and inspections and prohibiting new STRs where the owner does not live onsite. The committee devised the survey, which is available online through a link on the town website and Facebook page, as well as in the form of paper copies at the libraries and the town hall. The last date for filling out the survey will be Monday, June 10, the date of the next committee meeting, to be held at the town hall at 6:30 p.m.
“You started this process with no one on the committee who has a short-term rental,” said Phoenicia businessman Dave Pillard. “How can you say you’re getting the best perspective? You didn’t want to spend money on postage so everyone in town would get the survey. A lot of people don’t know about it even if they’re Internet-savvy. It gives me the impression you’re not proceeding in good faith. My business benefits from the increased rentals. We are on the cusp of generational change this area has not had for 100 years. If we’re going to get the best results, we have to make it transparent.”
Stanley pointed out that most other communities, including Woodstock, instituted STR regulations without conducting surveys, but Shandaken has made a point of getting residents’ input. “The survey asks people, ‘What do you perceive about STRs and how do you feel about them?’ A new committee will take the results, including members of the public, and this [existing] committee will decide who will be involved.”
Town councilman Kevin VanBlarcum, who is also on the STR committee, observed that STR owners had been allowed to express their opinions after deliberations at each of the committee’s meetings. “They have talked more than any committee member,” he stated.
Stanley said mailing out surveys would also have required numbering and tracking responses, while the online version tabulates results digitally.
Ian Loughlin referred to Shandaken’s comprehensive plan, approved in 2005, which states the town should work to develop incentives for attracting home-based businesses and industries that can proceed without a lot of infrastructure. It also says businesses should not be hobbled by a lot of regulation, and home businesses related to tourism should be encouraged. “Short-term rentals are a perfect fit,” said Loughlin. “I have both short-term and long-term rental properties. I can no longer do construction physically, and the rentals help me survive so I can make art. I’ve never had a complaint from neighbors. Restrictions on STRs would not solve the town’s affordable housing problem. In Phoenicia, there are two vacant commercial properties that are negatively impacting the town, hurting the vibrancy of town. That problem needs to be addressed. STR hosts are driving the tourist economy. We want you to appreciate that and not knock it.”
“We do appreciate it,” Stanley replied. “There are good STR owners, but there are always going to be those one or two that aren’t. I’m not trying to stop anyone from making money on their own property. But we still need to make sure they’re up to code.”
“The town has no viable alternative for accommodations,” remarked businessman Ian Cruickshank. “We’ve just had musty, moldy accommodations offered till now. Unless there’s a transformation of the hotel industry, any kind of suppression of STRs is a death knell for businesses relying on tourist dollars.”
Marti Gailes of the Big Indian Beautification Committee presented the town board with photographs documenting three properties in the hamlet that she asked the board to clean up. The former service station and mechanic on Route 28, now a towing service, currently has 52 cars sitting on the property. “A junkyard must be licensed, surrounded by an eight-foot fence, and set back 50 feet from the highway and 25 feet from the neighbors,” Gailes stated. “Unenclosed storage of car parts is prohibited in all zones. They leak hazardous materials, they attract rodents, and they’re a fire hazard. Complaints to the code officer and personal appeals to the owner have fallen on deaf ears.”
Secondly, she observed that the Morra Market, once the community’s grocery store, has been purchased, “stripped to the studs, and left to rot. It invites vandalism. The building permit is no longer posted and may have expired.”
Gailes also cited “a tent city that has become a permanent yard sale. It’s an illegal business in a residential zone. Cars are parking illegally on the shoulder. There are also examples of residences with mattresses, tires, and household garbage in sight of the roadway. Owners have gotten notices from the code officer, and it stops there. There must be consequences for ignoring the law. They’re reducing property values, and right on the Scenic Byway. Give the code officer whatever he needs to clear up these messes.”
Her husband, Gary, noted that a petition had been circulated and received 52 signatures in one week. “We know the owners, and we love them dearly. They are great people who have done a lot for our community, but they’ve got junk on their property, and people are getting upset.”
Stanley said that upon receiving Marti’s email that morning, he had spoken to building inspector and zoning enforcement officer Howie McGowan. “The junkyard owner did stop in today, and Howie said they had been in conversation, he gave him a letter, and we will start fining him. His father just passed, so he will need time, but he promised he’s looking to rectify the situation at that lot. He’s got a court date in the middle of month to start fining.”
Ian Cruickshank, owner of the store, said, “I support everything you’re talking about.” After beginning to renovate the property, he found it was in much worse condition than anticipated. “The building should come down, but it has historical significance. It requires substantial investment to get it functional again, which I am committed to making, but I have to work out a few things to justify the investment, a parking solution and a septic solution.”
He agreed there was no justification for leaving it in its current state. His plan to seal up the building had been set back when he broke his foot, but he planned to work on it during the coming weekend. “I strongly encourage diligent follow-up. It’s very difficult to justify a significant investment in a community while the town board allows for things that devalue because they’re next to an eyesore and a problem and in some cases dangerous. The community is at a pivotal point, with an opportunity to harness the resurgence of interest as people are rediscovering the Catskills. If we don’t take advantage, it will pass the community by, and growth and progress will be lost, perhaps for several generations.”
Stanley said the owner of one residential property is due to appear in court this month. The former building inspector had started to address the yard sale, but it had fallen through the cracks when his position changed hands. “We’ll do our best to get these enforced,” said Stanley. “It would be good to bring these issues to the planning and zoning boards, which have the right to tell the code officer to take action.”
A link to the Shandaken Short-Term Rental survey is available on the town website home page in the right-hand column at http://www.shandaken.us. The STR Committee will meet at the town hall on Monday, June 10, at 6:30 p.m.
Disclosure: The writer rents her full-time residence intermittently on Airbnb but is not a member of the Phoenicia Home Sharing Association.