CHATHAM – The Town Board held a workshop meeting last week to discuss the short-term rental section of the proposed new zoning law. On the agenda they planned to discuss the FAQ (frequently asked questions) sheet board members had written about the new zoning regarding short-term rentals but they ended up spending most of the meeting deciding what part of the short-term rental regulations each board member was comfortable with passing when they finally approve an updated zoning law.
The April 4 meeting started with a public comment period where several residents spoke about the residency requirement proposed in the law and the local lodging business.
Jodie Paris, owner of the Inn at Silver Maple Farm in East Chatham, said rumors of not enough places to stay in the area were not true. She said that many days of the year, there are vacancies at her bed and breakfast. “We don’t make money unless we bring people here,” she said of her business, adding that she has spent thousands of dollars promoting the area.
Nancy Jackson, who owns the New Concord Bed and Breakfast, said she supported having short-term rentals in the area because she doesn’t see them as competition. “To me, it’s apples to oranges,” she said of the comparison.
A few people who offer short-term rentals in their homes took issue with the proposal to require that owners who offer those rental units reside at the rental property for at least 183 days a year.
Chris Landy, who owns a house in Red Rock and business on Main Street in the Village of Chatham, pointed out that “second home owners pay the same amount of taxes” as any other property owners. He also said that of all the short-term rental (STR) properties in the town, “We have heard one complaint about one house.”
Thomas Road resident Heather Uhler, who has also attended other meetings to talk about the STR on her road, said that last weekend residents had to call the police about issues with the rental tenants. She stressed that the house on her road has several people staying there, which she called “a commercial usage.”
“There has to be some kind of restriction on this,” Ms. Uhler said.
Others at the meeting who rent their property on a short-term basis said that they care about their property and the community. “You can’t just say one example and say this is an example of all the short-term rentals,” said Laurie Sherman-Graff, who rents out a house for short-term stays.
After the public comment the board discussed the residency requirement among other aspects of the proposed STR regulations. Councilman Michael Richardson pointed out that in the proposed law there are different levels of requirements, depending on how many rooms are being rented. Those who rent out five or more rooms would need a special use permit. Three to five rooms would require only a site plan review by the town Planning Board; renting fewer than three rooms would require only that a property owner register with the town and pay a fee. The board has not yet decided on the amount of the fee. A fee would be charged and the town building inspector would inspect the property in all cases, according to Mr. Richardson.
He also pointed out that the town already allows commercial use in residential zones through the home occupation section of the zoning code, which allows residents to have a small business–like a therapist’s office or a hair salon–in their homes. But he said for the home occupation law to apply to an STR, the “first thing is that it’s got to be your home.”
Councilman John Wapner said he supported the residency requirement but that if people rented out their home or a space in their home for 30 days or less a year, it shouldn’t be considered a home occupation and not fall under the zoning law.
Councilman Bob Balcom said that the 183-days residency requirement came from taxation laws. He said that having a residency requirement was important.
Supervisor Maria Lull said that she had listened to residents about the STR issue during the public hearings on the proposed zoning law and read people’s emails and letters during the process. And she stressed to her board that they needed to give the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals “black and white instructions” in the law. The Town Board makes the zoning law but the Planning Board and ZBA apply it.
Efforts to revise the zoning law began shortly after the town’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2009. In 2017, the town hired Nan Stolzenburg, a town planner, to help guide the zoning revision committee appointed by the board.
Some residents who spoke at the board meeting and some board members, including Kevin Weldon, talked about removing the STR section of the zoning law from the rest of the law so the zoning law could be passed and the board could continue to work on the STR regulations.
“I really want to get this done,” said Mr. Balcom of the zoning. Other board members voiced concerns about having another committee get up to speed on the STR laws and starting from scratch on the law.
The board generally supported wording to exempt property rented for 30 days, making it not subject to the regulations. Mr. Richardson opposed that. The board then decided to make the residency requirement 160 days. But Mr. Weldon said, “I think the 160 days is too much.” And Mr. Richardson said he felt it was a “weak compromise” on the 183 days.
Mr. Wapner said he would compromise for 160 days as long as the 30-day wording was in the law.
The board said they would have to discuss the new wording with the attorney.
The plan is to have the county review the new law and start the state environment review (SEQR) in late April. They hope to adopt the new zoning law on May 28 but Ms. Lull stressed that all dates are tentative.
Updates on the zoning law and the schedule for passing the law are on the town’s website at http://www.chathamnewyork.us
The next Town Board meeting is April 18 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email