Saugerties town building department officials say special-use permits would be the best way to regulate hundreds of short-term rental units in the town.
Deputy town supervisor Leanne Thornton said there were over 400 short-term rentals listed in Ulster County’s database alone. Officials don’t know how many more accommodations rented through such sites as Airbnb and Vrbo are not on the county registry.
Town building inspector Alvah Weeks and assistant building inspector Kevin Brown recommended the town opt for special-use permits as opposed to a local law to regulate short-term rentals.
Brown said special-use permits would force the applicant to go before the planning board and trigger a public hearing and State Environmental Quality Review. Weeks said special-use permits would make it easier for his department to deal with problem properties. Special-use permits can be revoked if issues arise, forcing the owner to go back before the planning board to get the permit restored.
Aa local law would force the building department to go through a time-consuming court proceeding to deal with a problem property. “The parties get caught up in litigation,” Weeks said.
He argued that the town had passed a property maintenance law in part because of these issues. The controversial law was approved late last year after several months of considerable opposition from members of the public at meetings.
Thornton said special-use permit-based regulations would give the town planning board more power to set parameters to deal with issues like landscaping, complaining neighbors, the number of bedrooms, and parking. “Neighbors would be notified when the property sold and if it is to be operated as a short-term rental,” she said.
What about the 400 existing properties? Thornton was concerned not to overburden the volunteers who serve on the planning board. Brown agreed that was an important consideration.
Weeks suggested a time frame for operators to come into compliance, citing how the town has dealt with pre-existing businesses when zoning was changed in areas. He said an operating permit would ensure maintenance and fire-safety issues were taken into consideration. Annual inspections would be made like they are with other transient accommodations facilities.
Town-board member Zach Horton suggested the planning board could handle short-term rental properties by section block or fire district block in a set time period, perhaps a year. Perhaps a subcommittee of the planning board could handle this task. or even an outside company. “The buy-in will be painful, but in the long run it will be a success,” he said.
Board member Peg Nau seconded the suggestion that the board consider hiring an outside firm to handle this process.
Weeks reiterated it would be impossible for his three-member staff to rapidly inspect all 400 short-term rentals, especially as the department is swamped with building permit requests and inspections with a booming real-estate market in the area. “With our normal routine, run-of-the-mill things, we’re swimming to stay above water,” Weeks said.
Horton has spoken with town supervisor Fred Costello about a bed tax to help offset the town offset the tax-levy residents pay. He said short-term rental operators have expressed support for this proposal, which would be similar to a bed tax already in place at area hotels, motels and bed- and-breakfasts. He said operators were open to taxes of anywhere from five to 18 percent.
Horton suggested operators pay an initial $275 inspection fee and then $175 a year thereafter.
Thornton said the town was planning at least one or two public hearings where short-term rental operators and residents can share their thoughts about new regulations for accommodations. She said the town wanted to strike a balance between the needs of short-term rental operators and town residents.
“It affects the housing market and the owner invests in this, and we need to protect their rights,” Thornton said.