There’s no place like ‘domicile’ in Chatham

CHATHAM–The Town Board has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed new zoning law for Thursday, May 23 at 6 p.m. at the Tri-Village Fire House in Old Chatham.

The most updated proposed law is online at chathamnewyork.us/government/zoning, the town’s website.

This is not the first public hearing the board has held on the proposed zoning law. Last August, September and March the board held hearings on versions of this proposal and heard from several residents about the new regulations on short-term rentals. There are no regulations in the current town zoning law about short-term rentals, like properties offered on Airbnb and other websites.

The board began updating the town zoning laws in 2009, after the town’s Comprehensive Plan was passed. About two years ago, a committee was formed to review the zoning code and make changes and the board hired Nan Stolzenburg as town planning consultant. The board presented a zoning document with major changes and updates to the public in the summer of 2018.

But since then the board has heard from many residents, business owners and people who own property in the town, who have spoken at meetings and workshops about the short-term rental issue. Since the last three public hearings, the proposal has been changed. At one point limits were set on the amount of days owners could rent out their properties on a short-term basis and a residency requirement was added and changed.

At a workshop meeting in April, the board changed the short-term rental section of the law to allow property owners to rent out their properties for up to 30 days a year without having to meet a residency requirement. To rent out a property 31 days or more a year, that property would have to be the owner’s “domicile.”

According to the latest proposal on the website, a short-term rental is now defined as “the use of a residential home where by all or part of the home is rented by the property owner to tenants for consecutive periods of less than 31 days.”

In the proposed law, the board added the definition of a domicile, defining it as “A person’s fixed, permanent, and principal home for legal purposes and which is physically occupied by the owner for the purposes of living there at least 160 days per calendar year. For the purposes of this definition, ‘Domicile’ is distinct and different from ‘residence.’ As is often noted by courts and commentators, a person may have many residences, but can have only one domicile.”

Under the definition of short-term use, the proposed law says that to rent out a property for more than 30 days a year, the property must be the owner’s domicile.

Once the over-30-days rules apply, the proposal specifies requirements, depending on how many rooms are rented out and the type of permit a property owner needs from the town in order to offer short-term rentals. In some cases an owner would have to obtain a special use permit, in others only a site plan review would be required.

“For all classes of short‐term rentals and investment properties used for rental uses, before a short‐term rental permit is issued, there shall be an initial safety inspection conducted by [the Code Enforcement Officer] to determine whether property to be rented is in compliance with the Zoning Law and all other applicable provisions of the Town Code, the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code and any New York State Code Supplements,” according to Section Z of the proposed law.

At the board workshop meeting May 2, board members discussed with Ms. Stolzenburg and John Lyons, the town’s attorney for land use, the steps needed to move the proposal to a vote. The latest changes have been extensive enough that the newest version of the proposed law has to be reviewed again by the county Planning Board, as well as the town Planning Board, and the town has to hold another public hearing.

The board also reviewed the timeline for completing the environmental review required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

As for changes to the law, Mr. Lyons told the board that besides changing the short-term rental section, “we did a little bit more clean-up.” He said they also “spiffed up the definitions.”

He stressed that having a final draft of the proposed law “is step one of the official process of adoption” but he said that changes could be made to the law after the public hearing.

Ms. Stolzenburg talked to the board about the SEQRA review. The board will be reviewing the proposed law for small or large environmental impacts. Mr. Lyons pointed out that they are looking at environmental issues not economic ones.

“Pure economic impacts don’t have a place in the SEQRA review,” he told the board.

Copies of the proposed law that will be discussed at the public hearing are also available at Town Hall on Route 295 and at the North Chatham Library.

The Tri-Village Fire House is at 111 County Route 13. The public hearing starts at 6 p.m. May 23.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email moc.r1558807826epapa1558807826ibmul1558807826oc@el1558807826adsae1558807826te1558807826

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