As Woodstock Supervisor Bill McKenna reopened discussion of proposed changes to the town’s short-term rental regulations, owners once again said they were left out of the loop in the original permitting process and asked for greater inclusion.
“I do recognize that there’s a somewhat unfair process where we give out permits, and then of those 200, 300 permits we give out, now go with the property for life until they decide not to get them,” McKenna said at the December 13 Town Board meeting. “And that’s not unsimilar to a taxi medallion, or a liquor license, where somebody gets something, they have it, and nobody else can get it.”
McKenna said he suggested a lottery but it wasn’t received well.
Town council member Bennet Ratcliff suggested much higher permit fees to pay for enforcement of the regulations, and McKenna agreed.
“If you look at the back of the zoning law, you’ll see where the penalties are, and they haven’t been touched in 30 years. I think they need to be increased quite a bit,” McKenna said. “My thought was that we kind of start that conversation tonight, set the guidelines, the parameters where we want to go with this…When we first created the STR (short term rental) law in 2018, we did vow that, two or three years down the line, we would take a look at this. This was a brand new law. No other town in the county had one, and we really wanted to get a sense of what was working and what wasn’t.”
Michael Henry of the Woodstock Short Term Rental Association was one of many who had been running short-term rentals until he got a letter from the town stating he needed a permit. By then, the town had reached the cap, so none were available.
“We’re seeking legislation that’s fair to everyone involved, consistently applied and targeted to address the real issues that all the stakeholders care about…The desire to maintain local character and quality of life, the town’s need for visitor accommodations to support the local tourist economy and restaurants and everything, and the part-time residents’ needs for income to maintain their home,” said Henry.
He said the existing regulations, if enforced adequately, would squeeze out the corporate landlords the town is trying to discourage. “Many of the core restrictions of the STR legislation that already exist, if they were enforced, would make investing in short-term rentals unappealing to profit-oriented absentee landlords and corporations, especially the limits on the number of nights each year that the property can be rented and the prohibition on multiple permits for the same owner,” Henry said.
Tricia McDermott, also a member of Short Term Rental Association, suggested increased taxes on short-term rentals as a way to fund long-term housing. “I’ll just give an example of how places out west with elite ski towns and such have imposed double digit taxes or more on Airbnb rentals — people have shown that they’re willing to pay it just to visit towns as beautiful as ours,” she said. “And that money I think could have a real impact on bringing more people into the town and giving them affordable places to live.”
But McKenna said that is not an option.
“I wish that we could tax it. We can’t tax. We’re not a city. I would love that,” he said, noting increased revenue can come in through permitting fees. “There are different ways that we can have that permitting fee. I don’t believe we can have it based on your income, but more the size of the bedrooms or whatnot, the number of bedrooms.”
Council member Laura Ricci said the town had clear reasons to adopt the short-term rental regulations when it did.
“Things were definitely out of control. They were out of hand. There were just too many STRs, there were too many transients in town there were too many people that didn’t care about the noise they made or the trash they left,” Ricci said.
“With the STR law, I haven’t heard complaints like that. So I feel like the STR law did handle the worst of what we were trying to handle,” she said.
McKenna agreed. “I will say it started to improve dramatically, even before we actually adopted a law, because all of a sudden, STR owners saw that we were serious, and that this was going to happen. And really, hats off to them. They became aware that their rentals had implications on the residents and they took efforts to correct it,” he said.
The Town Board is expected to discuss recommended changes again in January.