Woodstock residents weigh in on law addressing housing crisis

The Woodstock Town Board heard from some who can’t afford to live in the town they love and others who fear changes will take away their livelihood at a packed public hearing last week on a moratorium to put a pause on development that would hinder sorely needed long-term housing growth.

“I understand the need to augment your income. So I’m wondering if it might be fair to have a period of time and to have them staggered so that we weren’t destroying neighborhoods,” said longtime resident Tad Wise, speaking about the proliferation of short-term rentals.

He noted on Pine Grove Street that there are no longer neighbors, but merely tenants.

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“If you need some income, if you need to Airbnb for a period of time, you should have the right to do so for a staggered placement so that it wasn’t all in one neighborhood at one time,” Wise said. “It would be allowable for different periods so that there would be a continuous Woodstock community, which was augmenting its income through Airbnb. “It wouldn’t be one or the other.”

“My daughter can’t find a place to rent. She doesn’t want to live with her parents. She doesn’t want to live in High Falls. She would like to rent something.”

While the short-term rental growth has contributed to a lack of long-term housing, the Housing Committee wants energy to be directed towards other development that takes away from housing that is attainable to the people who want to work and live in the community.

“The town Housing Committee is encouraged by the Town Board’s quick response to our request for a nine-month moratorium,” Housing Committee co-chair Susan Goldman said. “Our concern is that the draft moratorium language is focused narrowly on short-term rentals and conversion of residential to commercial use. We see loopholes that will allow continued creation of commercial transient housing, a term not currently defined in our zoning law,” she said. “We also see that the current draft would allow building subdivisions without the benefit of new zoning for inclusive housing and smart growth as recommended in the comprehensive plan.”

Moratorium not a solution, but it buys time

“Basically, what the moratorium is going to do is give us a pause.  It in and of itself is not going to fix anything,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said.

The plan is to appoint a “supercommittee” made up of members of the Housing and Zoning Revision committees and the Zoning and Planning boards and a couple Town Board members, McKenna said. The group will then look at the zoning and land-use laws and propose amendments to entice developers to do the type of building projects the town needs.

McKenna said he has always made it clear the developer is not the enemy.

“So maybe instead of five half-million dollar homes, we get 15 $125,000 homes. I’m making up numbers now,” he said. Or perhaps instead of allowing five houses in a subdivision, a developer is allowed to build ten smaller houses and rent them at a reasonable rate, he suggested.

“It gives us a break. It puts a halt on certain types of development and gives us nine months to come up with solutions,” McKenna said. 

“I don’t think any of you are my enemies, or any one from this town or new people that come here. I like the diversity,” said Urana Kinlen, who is on the Housing Committee, but spoke as an individual.

“But it’s out of balance. And I know that a lot of us have lived here for a long time. I can see the overarching trajectory and the history and there’s always been tourism. We all came from somewhere else,” she said.

“But I also remember that for many years, there was a lot more balance,” said Kinlen. “And I grew up in the 80s and I hung out on the Green with a bunch of kids who are now adults, and we can’t live here. We can’t afford to be here. We can’t have businesses here. Because I didn’t inherit a house, I couldn’t get a loan to start a business.”

Kinlen spoke of working multiple jobs just to hang on to a place in the town where she spent her youth. “I did hospitality for the last five years. And I taught and I was taking care of people’s pets,” she said. “And I was doing multiple jobs at 60 something hours a week and I still couldn’t afford to rent a place. Do I think it’s just the short term rentals? Do I think it’s just the real estate market? No, not necessarily,” she said, adding it has many aspects and the Housing Committee is trying to work on a solution that is equitable for everyone.

Jesse Halliburton, developer and co-owner of the Woodstock Way Hotel, said skyrocketing rental rates are part of supply and demand. “For those of you that cannot afford to live here, I would implore you to save some money if you can and try to buy on the downside of the market,” Halliburton said to some groans and laughter. “You can laugh at me all you want,” he responded.

Real estate agent Peter Cantine acknowledge affordable housing should be addressed but a moratorium is not the answer. “In my opinion, the proposed moratorium is not a solution to this problem. In fact, if approved, It would act as a detriment, not an aid to the creation of additional housing,’ Cantine said.

“By the numbers, short-term rentals have been a main culprit in swallowing up our housing stock. But when it comes to short-term rentals, Woodstock does not have a zoning problem, but an enforcement problem,” he said. “In 2020, the building department sent out 189 letters of compliance, many of which have yet to be answered. One of the recommendations of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan was to simply enforce the zoning law.”

Not all short-term rentals are alike

But some, like Lisa Kollisch, feel like everyone who rents to vacationers is being lumped into the same group and demonized. “We’re not all the same. And to act like I’m a corporation or LLC, like these people who send me letters who want to buy my house?” Kollisch said. “You want me to sell my house to an LLC? They’re offering cash. I don’t want to sell it.”

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“So my suggestion is that you get a little more granular with how you define people who are doing short-term rentals… I’m not an Airbnb landlord. I’m here as much as I can be here. And there are hundreds of people like me,” she said.

Kollisch said she doesn’t want to lose her house that has been in the family for years and she hopes to pass it on to her children. Renting rooms, short term, allows her to keep meeting expenses, she said. But the booming market for short-term rentals and the sales of single-family homes have driven out many who can no longer afford rent or to buy a place of their own.

“I have to explain to my six-year-old daughter when we come to Woodstock, why he can no longer afford to live in our home,” said an emotional Annalee Orsulich, who had to move to Glasco.

Orsulich said the town has changed. “And now, it’s like I come to this town and I feel like it had a bad facelift, and it’s hard for me to even walk.  I don’t I don’t know where to go. I don’t know where to look,” she said. “I have to pick and choose the places I could go and visit and still feel at home because it’s so disturbing to me. What’s happened to this town?”

Longtime area resident Heather Free said while she sympathizes with people who are trying to earn extra income through short-term rentals, people are being put out in the street. “I’m in full support of the moratorium. The nine months is not the be-all, end-all. And as everyone keeps saying, ‘Let’s find a solution. Let’s work together.’ We need time to do that.”

Emily Sherry, who runs The Table at Woodstock, an organization that provides meals for people throughout the Onteora School District, said she came to represent the people she feeds. “It’s heartbreaking what’s happening here,” she said. “When I hear people talking about vibrancy, I have to laugh because I’ve lived here my entire life. And my family has been here for well over four years. I have never seen Woodstock less vibrant,” she said in response to comments that the town has been more vibrant.

“There were so few local children in the streets when there was no housing for local children to stay,” Sherry said. “My own children say to me that they no longer consider Woodstock an option and that they are planning to leave. And what a tragedy for this community. When the hundreds of people that we feed can’t live here, you don’t have a community anymore.”

“You might have income from your second and third homes, but you won’t have anyone to sweep the streets… you won’t have anyone to put out the fire in your home because the volunteers can’t live here anymore,” said Sherry. “You won’t have a plumber. You won’t have an electrician. You won’t have anyone to plow your driveway. I’m just being real.”

McKenna said the board will consider the comments and recommendations. He recessed the public hearing on the moratorium and said it will resume on June 22.

There is one comment

  1. Margaret Smith

    “Jesse Halliburton, developer and co-owner of the Woodstock Way Hotel, said skyrocketing rental rates are part of supply and demand. “For those of you that cannot afford to live here, I would implore you to save some money if you can and try to buy on the downside of the market,” Translation: “Let them eat cake, live in their cars, and do our service work at $7 an hour. My partner and I will slice and dice Woodstock into pretentious oblivion and move on to our next easy mark.” Raise your hand if you think the day of the professional predator is going to be over very soon. That’s exactly why they are exploiting town after town in our state, while they still can. “You can laugh at me all you want,” eh? We’re not laughing. We’re mobilizing. Woodstock is our town, and worth fighting for.

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