Chatham finds some common ground on zoning

CHATHAM—The Town Board has eliminated some of the most controversial requirements in its proposed plan to rewrite town zoning and regulate short-term rentals.

Among the proposed zoning regulations was one that would have required homeowners who offer short-term rentals (STRs) to live in their home a minimum of 160 days a year. But after heated push-back at public meetings and online and in subsequent give and take, the requirement was dropped.

The change was approved by the board at a special board public session August 12 and announced by board member Michael Richardson at the monthly town meeting August 15.

In place of the 160-day rule, the town proposes that residents who wish to offer short-term rental accommodations in their homes will have to provide the town with a copy of their federal or state income tax form showing that the rental property is their primary residence, referred to in the proposed zoning law as their domicile.

Mr. Richardson said after the meeting that there may be as many as 76 short-term rentals, like those marketed online by Airbnb, operating in the town, although he cautioned that the actual number might be slightly different.

The revised proposals on STRs are online at the town website, A short-term rental is defined in the proposed law as “when all or part of a residential home is rented out for
less than 30 consecutive days.”

Other contentious issues that have also been eliminated or revised include:
• Dropping what Mr. Richardson described as the “silly” sections of the proposed noise ordinance, such as a prohibition in the proposal forbidding “Hooting and Hollering”
• Allowing residents to place “accessory buildings” wherever they want on their properties as long as the buildings meet setback requirements; and increasing the permissible size of the buildings
• Removing restrictions on new construction in the hamlets that would prohibit the construction of front porches.

Councilman John Wapner said at the August 15 meeting that board members continue to review and attempt to answer questions from Chatham residents about the proposed zoning law.
Chatham’s current zoning law does not list short-term rentals as a permitted use. Technically, that makes all STRs in the town illegal businesses, according to the town website.

But just as tensions ease over one set of land use disagreements another land use issue has popped up after Councilman Richardson reported on a recent meeting of the town Economic Stabilization Committee, which he chairs.

The committee recently heard a presentation on a plan for the former Shaker Museum Road site of the Old Chatham Sheepherding Corp. Called the Sheepherding Farm, it would include a farm, a hotel, a brewery, winery and distillery, a farm market and horse boarding, among other services and amenities. A two-page document about the proposal estimated it would create “36 year-round jobs” and generate an estimated $175,000 annually in sales tax.

Mr. Richardson said the committee had viewed the economics of the proposed project favorably but had told the presenters it would require a change in the zoning law to create an “agricultural enterprise zone.”

The prospect of even more zoning while the board is still immersed in the existing zoning proposal triggered a new discussion. “It takes time and effort” to create a new zoning category and zone, said Councilman Bob Balcom, who reminded the board that the Sheepherding Farm is “just a concept right now.”

Councilman Wapner advised his colleagues on the board to “finish this process we’re concluding” before taking on a new proposal.

“We need to get feedback from the people who live there,” said Councilman Kevin Weldon. He added that it was not the Town Board’s job to determine where businesses can locate; that is what the Planning Board is for.

“I just don’t think we have the time,” said town Supervisor Maria Lull, who reminded the board members that they must begin soon to prepare the annual town budget.

The open section of the meeting concluded with comments from the public, and most of the speakers were residents of Shaker Museum Road. Jessica Brooks said she was concerned about the scope and the impact of the proposal.

Paul Sagan said it was still unclear to him what was being proposed and urged the board, “Please take your time to understand what’s being proposed.”

Rebecca Carter, who also lives on Shaker Museum Road, told the board, “Thank you for being deliberate.”

There was also a letter from a lawyer for neighbors of the proposed project.

Also at the August 15 meeting:
• Supervisor Lull announced that the town would receive an additional $92,324.01 in funding from the state under CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program).
• Ms. Lull said that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) is “at the design stage” for the traffic light at the Albany Turnpike bridge in East Chatham. The design is expected to go out for bidding in October.
• Councilman Weldon reported the Crellin Park Day August 10 was a success, drawing 621 visitors. Last year’s attendance was 356.
The next Town Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 5 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall on Route 295.

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