Knock, knock: Chatham prepares short-term rental rules

CHATHAM–The Town Board met with Planner Nan Stolzenburg to go over the town’s proposed new zoning law at a special meeting December 6. The board focused on section Z of the law, which deals with short-term rentals, and the section on home occupation.

Members of the board and Ms. Stolzenburg stressed while reviewing the proposal that since a law on short-term rentals like the ones the Airbnb website offers is not in the current town zoning law, short-term rentals are not allowed in the town.

“Anyone who has a short-term rental in Chatham is doing so illegally, according to the code,” said Councilman Bob Balcom.

He also said later in the meeting about short-term rentals, “It’s a wild west situation” of having no current laws. “But regulations are coming in,” he said.

That regulation is detailed in section Z of the new code. The board reviewed the issue of having older houses inspected and requiring those houses to meet current state standards. Councilman Michael Richardson said that having short-term rentals inspected would protect the town and the town’s code enforcement officer from lawsuits.

Ms. Stolzenburg said she would have the town attorney for land use issues, John Lyons, review that section again. Mr. Lyons has already reviewed the proposed law and made several comments. One of the issues he wanted the board to consider was the amount of time they were giving people to register their short-term rental properties with the town once the law is passed. The latest update says that people have 45 days to comply. But there are currently over 60 residences that are offering short-term rentals, and Mr. Lyons and Ms. Stolzenburg didn’t think there would be enough time for the part-time code enforcement officer (CEO) to deal with all the applications.

The board decided to extend the proposed requirement to six months.

Mr. Richardson stressed that this a new law and no one would be “grandfathered in” since there is not a current law on short-term rentals the board would be changing. “It’s not a change; what you’ve been doing is illegal,” he said of current short-term rentals.

The board also discussed suggestions from Mr. Lyons and Ms. Stolzenburg about the home occupation section, which allows businesses, major and minor, in homes.

There was also a long discussion about investment properties and residency requirements. The proposed law says that a resident must live in a home for 183 days a year, which affects whether someone can offer their property as a short-term rental.

“I know there are a lot of people who are going to be unhappy about that,” said Councilman Kevin Weldon, addressing the residency requirements and how they will affect the ability of property owners to have a short-term rentals. He and Councilman John Wapner also said there will be residents who question whether their property is an investment property or a second home.

“You just don’t think of everything that comes up,” said Ms. Stolzenberg. She said that the board would have to put the new zoning regulations into action and see what questions come up. But she stressed that new proposal is based on the town’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted several years ago, and that zoning law should be reviewed every five years.

Ms. Stolzenberg said she would supply an updated copy for the board to review before they hold another public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, January 13 at 5 p.m. at the Town Hall.

There will also be information for the public on the town’s website at

Also at the meeting:

• The board passed a motion allowing Flying Deer Nature Center to have 125 people on the organization’s site on Daley Road for a winter solstice celebration Saturday, December 15.

When the town Planning Board and Zoning Board Appeals approved the center’s application to move Flying Deer to the site in Chatham the center agreed to limit the number of people on the site to 50 during the year and over 100 for one event in the summer. Flying Deer moved forward with planning for the solstice celebration without the approvals from the town for the large group.

Mr. Richardson, who is on the Flying Deer Board of Directors, said the center would have to cancel the event since there would not be time to go to the ZBA and ask for a change in the special use permit. The Town Board agreed to allow Flying Deer to increase the number of people just for the December 15 event to 125. The center will have to ask the ZBA for the change for next year’s event. Mr. Richardson abstained from the vote

• The board looked at a proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend policy suggested by the county’s Environmental Management Council (EMC). Supervisor Maria Lull said that representatives from the EMC would give a presentation about the policy to the board before the board would have to vote on it. The EMC is also asking other towns in the county to consider the policy.

The board’s next regular meeting is December 20 at 6 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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