Chatham weighs size of ‘transient guest’ welcome mat

CHATHAM–The Town Board held a second public hearing last week on a new, proposed zoning law. About 20 people attended the September 26 meeting at the Tri-Village Firehouse. Several spoke on the issue of short-term rentals, like those offered through Airbnb. They discussed how the proposed law would affect people who rent out their properties for a few days at a time and how it would affect their neighbors.

According to the proposal, a short-term rental is defined as “a residential dwelling unit or portion thereof owned by a Chatham resident or a Chatham second homeowner and used for occasional and temporary lodging (no more than six times per year) by transient guests for a fee for fewer than 30 consecutive nights by any one individual or individuals. The owner of the dwelling may or may not occupy the structure when the transient lodgers are present.”

The proposed law also says: “A dwelling unit or portion thereof that is used by the same individual or individuals for 30 or more consecutive nights shall be considered a long-term rental and shall not be considered a short-term rental, occasional. When a short-term rental, occasional occurs, the principal use of the property shall continue to be residential and shall not be construed to mean a bed and breakfast, rooming house, or other commercial use.”

There is also a definition for short-term rental–commercial, which is “a commercial business in a residential dwelling unit or a residential accessory structure or portion thereof and used for temporary lodging by transient guests for fewer than 30 consecutive nights by any one individual or individuals.

“The owner of the dwelling shall occupy the structure when the transient lodgers are present, and the premises must have a designated local contact person available 24/7 as per 180-58 (Z),” a reference to the town’s existing zoning law.

Several people who offer short-term rentals in the town came to the meeting to say they felt the proposed law was unfair and targeted them. Other residents who support a version of the law that would regulate short-term rentals said that it was a complicated issue but there needs to be restrictions.

“Commercial enterprises do not belong in residential areas,” said Karen Murphy, a Chatham resident who sat on the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, which reviewed the current zoning law and made recommended changes. She said that other communities have had problems with short-term rentals and stressed that in regular bed and breakfasts the owner had to be on the property when guests were there but not for short-term rentals like the ones offered on Airbnb. She urged the board to protect the community.

Other residents said that having transient renters meant that residents living near a short-term rental properties wont know their neighbors. One resident said that transient guests had trespassed on his land.

But the people who supported short-term rentals said that there needs to be stronger trespassing and noise ordinances, not rules against the renters.

“I’ve had trespassers on my property and they were all local,” said Elizabeth Marks, who rents a guesthouse on her property to short-term tenants. She said that several of the people who rent their properties have retained a lawyer, Mitchell Khosrova, who sent a letter to the board.

“This is only helping the community,” Laurie Sherman-Graff said of short-term rentals. She said she tells her transient guests to use businesses in the Village of Chatham when they ask her where to go to dinner or to shop. She rents her house through Airbnb but it is also a licensed bed and breakfast.

Owners talked about the limit of no more than six times per year for lodging in short-term rentals. New Concord resident Don Harwood said he’d looked at the regulations in other towns in the county and found that “six bookings is unquestionably the most extreme” limit. He suggested the board look at the zoning adopted by the Town of Copake. “That model is very helpful,” he said.

Old Chatham resident Bob Linville said that after reviewing the newest changes to the proposed zoning law, which were posted on the town’s website August 28, he felt it was “cobbled together” from text from other communities and “as such, they are inappropriate to the town.” He also stressed that they were in violation of at least three constitutional Amendments and that the New York Civil Liberties Union had been made aware of the issue.

After about an hour, the board closed the public hearing without comment. The board has not set a date to vote on the proposed law.

The board held the first public hearing on the proposed new zoning law on August 2 and at the beginning of the board’s September meeting Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg said that comments made at the August meeting had been incorporated into the package of town zoning law changes still under consideration.

The newest version of the proposed law is at http://chathamnewyork.us

The next regular Town Board meeting will be Thursday, October 18 at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email moc.r1539997839epapa1539997839ibmul1539997839oc@el1539997839adsae1539997839te1539997839

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