Does that home have room service?

Copake awash in complaints about well-to-do ‘transients’
COPAKE—Can’t find enough hotel or motel rooms for you and 30 of your closest friends?
Don’t despair. Rent a house… or three, just $1,200 per night.
But wait, is it legal?

At its September 11 meeting, the Copake Town Board received a letter from a resident of Upper Rhoda Lake in West Copake who contends that residential homes are meant for permanent occupancy not “transient accommodations such as hotels, motels and hospitals” according to Town Zoning Code definitions.

Johanna Vriens of 10 Howard Drive called the board’s attention to a property owner who now owns three properties: 22 Howard Drive, 2103 and 2111 County Route 7A. Ms. Vriens alleges that the property owner has never occupied any of the premises and bought them “for the sole purpose of commercial activity.”

Through personal observation and a visit to a web page www.vrbo.com/505540, Ms. Vriens wrote that “we have discovered that these houses are being advertised and rented on a temporary basis, by the day, weekend or week to tenants who are clearly transient…. As a result we are experiencing all of the mounting problems associated with transient occupancies.”

The three homes, all waterfront properties, have an assessed value of about $1.7 million and are all owned by Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, who has an address on Central Park West in New York City. According to the biography on his website, www.alonben-meir.com, Dr. Ben-Meir is a professor and senior fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and is an expert on Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in international negotiations and conflict resolution.

The website advertisement for his properties says the homes are on three adjacent lots and are available for large groups and small retreats. Perhaps a family reunion, the site suggests. All three homes combined have 14 bedrooms, 9-full and 2 half-bathrooms and can sleep 32 people. One of the houses has a heated in-ground pool, the other two have tennis courts. Guests must stay a minimum of two to seven nights and the cost per property starts at $1,200 per night; $7,200 per week and $23,500 per month.

“The actual use of these properties meets the definition of a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast, which according to the zoning code is expressly prohibited in R-1 or R-2 zones,” Ms. Vriens wrote, asking for the town’s “prompt attention to this serious violation of Copake Zoning Code.”

Referring to the letter as regarding Upper Rhoda Lake “party houses,” Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer said more letters on the subject are coming.

Contacted by The Columbia Paper this week, Copake Code Enforcement Officer Edward Ferratto confirmed that the rented houses are located in an R-2 residential zone. He said he has spoken to Upper Rhoda Lake neighbors whose complaints range from house guests making excessive noise to throwing their beer bottles in the lake.

But before he decides what to do about it, Mr. Ferratto said he planned to confer with Town Attorney Ken Dow about “legal ramifications.”

Mr. Ferratto said it is common for waterfront property owners to rent out their houses to vacationers weekly or monthly, not just at Upper Rhoda, but at any lake or pond in town.

“It’s not illegal. But what could be an issue is the way it’s being advertised,” Mr. Ferratto said, noting he could not pursue one case and not another. He did suggest that neighbors who think the temporary house guests are disturbing the peace should call the police.

Dr Ben-Meir did not return a call for comment on the issue.

In other business the Town Board:
*Agreed to designate $2,500 in the 2015 budget for dog enumeration. Copake’s canine residents have not been counted in many years and Supervisor Nayer estimated that only about 15% of resident dogs are licensed. The dog census could pay for itself in two years by helping the town’s dog warden identify the owners of dogs on the loose instead of taking them to the shelter which costs the town about $300 per dog. Licensed dogs would also have to have their rabies vaccination which would benefit public health

*Heard that the town’s Park and Recreation Commission has been unable to conduct a business meeting for six months due to lack of a quorum. The 11-member commission, down by at least two members, is responsible for orchestrating many of the town’s summer and holiday events

*Tabled action on a new local law on hydrofracking pending review by the county.

The Town Board will conduct two special meetings on September 24: to hear a 2015 Tentative Budget presentation at 9 a.m. and to conduct interviews for members of the Citizens Committee to Nominate and possibly make appointments at 10 a.m.
The board’s next regular meeting is October 9 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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