OLD CHATHAM–The Town Board hosted a public hearing on the proposed new zoning law May 23 at the Tri-Village Fire House. This is the fourth public hearing on the proposed law dating back to August 2018 and one of many meetings where the proposal was discussed.
Though most of the comments at last week’s meeting regarded short-term rental (STR) regulations, some people were there to discuss other parts of the proposed law, especially the section on enforcement.
Five people urged the board to pass the proposed new law, pointing out that STRs, like the ones offered online by Airbnb, are currently illegal in the town since there are no zoning laws governing them. They pointed out that changes could be made once the law is passed.
Others who spoke felt the current zoning laws are working just fine. Some, including Jeffery Hunt, president and CEO of the county Chamber of Commerce, asked that the board remove the STR regulations from the current proposals so that STR issues could be worked on separately.
Overall, the proposals are meant to make local laws consistent with the goals of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which was approved in 2009.
Town Board members did not comment at the hearing. The board will meet again June 6 for a workshop and on June 20 for the regular meeting. Both of those meetings start at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall.
Of the more than 20 people who spoke, many praised the work the board and volunteers have done to update the law since 2009. The town has been working with a planning consultant, Nan Stolzenburg, for the last few years to get to this final stage. The county Planning Board has reviewed the town’s proposals twice.
Residents pointed out that changes have been made to the law since it was first presented to the public last year. The proposals now include a 160-day residency requirement for property owners who want to rent out their homes on a short-term basis, but all property owners would have the right to rent out their homes for less than 30 days a year without a permit or having to prove residency.
People at the meeting were concerned about enforcement of the 160-day residency requirement. “How the heck are you going to know what people are doing in their houses?” said resident Nancy Stock.
Others talked about the economic benefits of having STRs in the community. Sally Simmons said the law discriminates against second home owners who rent out their houses to help pay their taxes so they can keep their homes in the area.
Van Calhoun, a resident who has worked on the town’s zoning committee, said the town needed full-time residents and that this proposed law gives them a “first shot” at having an STR. “Housing is a real problem here,” he said of people not finding affordable properties to buy or rent in the area.
Ms. Simmons and other speakers suggested that the STR laws helped one group of people in the town that have had an issue with a rental property on Thomas Road. Heather Uhler, who lives on Thomas Road, said that the property being used as a STR is now for sale and being advertised as a short-term rental business. She stressed that the proposed law does not say there can be no STR “but there have to be regulations.”
Judy Grunberg, a resident and business owner in the town, said she had been to other public hearings and meetings on the zoning and that a majority of the people who spoke were against the STR regulations in the proposal.
“Are you really listening to the public?” she asked.
Among those speaking at the hearing: Abi Mesick took issue with the definitions; Ken Blass was concerned about the lighting and sound requirements, especially how that affected the private tennis courts on his road; Vance Pitkin took issue with the penalties for not following the zoning law.
Mr. Pickin read from the “Criminal penalties and enforcement” section of the proposed law, which says: “Any violation of the Zoning Law is hereby declared to be an offense punishable by a fine not exceeding $350 or imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months, or both, for conviction of a first offense; upon conviction of a second offense, both of which were committed within a period of five years, punishable by a fine not less than $350, nor more than $700, or imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months, or both; and upon conviction of a third or subsequent offense, all of which were committed within a period of five years, punishable by a fine not less than $700, nor more than $1,000, or imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months, or both.”
He told the board, “I find that to be extraordinarily troubling.”
Mr. Blass also mentioned the penalties, saying “I go out, play tennis for a few hours, and be fined and sent to jail?”
Ms. Mesick and Mr. Pitkin have been endorsed by town Republicans to run for seats on the Town Board in the November election.
Before the new zoning proposals become law, the board will have to vote on them. The Town Board provided a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the proposals at the meeting. That information and the proposed law are on the town’s website at www.chathamnewyork.us/government/zoning.php
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email