Woodstock officials will draft a moratorium on commercially developed housing to curb a rise in short-term rentals and corporations buying up homes and making it unaffordable for many to live in town.
“At the present time, Woodstock is facing an unprecedented transition of ownership of properties away from individual full time and part time residents,” the town’s housing committee said in a letter to the Town Board last week.
“Many of the new owners are LLCs or individuals whose intentions for development and use of these properties are unclear,” the letter stated. “The increase in short-term rentals over the past few years underscores our concern that many purchasers are investing in Woodstock as a commodity, not as a community.”
The committee urged the town to engage a land-use attorney to draft a moratorium on commercial housing use and development until the Zoning Revision Committee can complete its work on the town zoning law and the town can come up with a housing strategy.
“Without such a land use moratorium, Woodstock cannot protect the residential character of our town or realize the vision presented in the comprehensive plan that was developed by a robust community engagement process,” the letter said.
Housing committee co-chair Kirk Ritchey said the moratorium will not prevent residents from improving and maintaining their properties. “It’s intended to stop the LLCs and the nonresident owners who view our town as a commodity… rather than a community as we see it,” he said.
The Zoning Revision Committee is in full support of the moratorium, chair and Town Board liaison Laura Ricci said.
The Woodstock Neighbors Committee similarly urged the board to enact a moratorium.
“Woodstock today is not the Woodstock of the 1980’s when the zoning law was last reviewed,” it wrote in a letter. “We are now a town whose residential communities are being threatened with commercial expansion; a town where many residents can no longer afford to either buy or rent; a town where our very sense of community is becoming a quaint relic of the past.”
“I want to give a human face to this letter,” said Neighbors Committee member Terry Funk Antman, who noted 50 percent of homes on their Neher Street block are short-term rentals.
Antman said it is neighbors that have gotten everyone through the pandemic, but things are rapidly changing. “We’re feeling more and more like if we get sick, nobody’s going to give us soup,” she said.
Police Reform and Reinvention Committee member and activist Rachel Marco-Havens said the town could have stopped this earlier.
“We are allowing corporate entitlement to the point of excessiveness. How is this working? This is what we’re building,” she said. “We have already grandfathered 800 Airbnbs in this town. We need to wake up.”
Councilman Lorin Rose said he just sold five acres to a neighbor who is going to keep it undeveloped. While he was in the process of selling, inquiries came flooding in from commercial interests, he noted. “I got letters and calls from consortiums in Minnesota who are scanning the county for real estate to buy. It’s predatory. It’s not local. It’s global almost,” Rose said.
Councilman Reggie Earls said he’s noticing the changes as he sees more strangers and starts “feeling like you yourself are a tourist.”
Supervisor Bill McKenna said some things can be changed to ensure more housing its accessible to everyone, like changing the five percent affordable housing threshold for subdivisions to maybe 20-25 percent.
“We don’t need to scorn developers necessarily. We need to embrace them and get them to build the type of housing we need,” McKenna said.
The town will work with an attorney on the moratorium language so the board can vote on it in the next few weeks.
Councilman Richard Heppner will re-form a committee to tighten up the town’s new short-term rental law, learning from loopholes that have been discovered since it was enacted.