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Group calls for short-term rental moratorium in North Elba

LAKE PLACID — A development commission tasked with reviewing the local land-use code is calling for elected officials to stop issuing any new short-term vacation rental permits for the next year.

Meanwhile, some vacation rental owners are suing the local governments over the limits already placed on them.

The request from the Land Use Code Review Steering Committee — a subset of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission — came before the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and the North Elba Town Council on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The committee hopes that placing a moratorium on issuing any new permits would allow them time to study the impact of a short-term vacation rental law that was adopted by the town and village boards in March, and allow them more time to make recommendations regarding new zoning regulations, according to a letter from the committee submitted to the town and village boards.

Neither board took action on the request. The boards have not yet publicly discussed the request at length. After hearing a presentation from LPNECDC Chairman Dean Dietrich about the request, Mayor Craig Randall indicated that the village board would go into executive session, citing litigation as the reason for discussing things behind closed doors. Dietrich offered his attendance for the private discussion.

“Since it involves litigation,” Randall said, “I’m going to defer any further conversation at this time to an executive session discussion.”

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that’s “probably not” a valid reason for the board to enter into executive session — unless the board discussed only proposed or current litigation, not the LPNECDC’s request.

The town and village are both involved with litigation surrounding its joint short-term vacation rental law. A group of vacation rental owners filed a lawsuit against the municipalities in June alleging that the law is unconstitutional; violates their civil, First Amendment and property rights; violates due process; and “substantially burdens” them by capping the number of days their units can be rented, according to court documents. That lawsuit, which seeks to void the law, is ongoing.

“We’re taking a cautious course, which is to take no action at this moment,” Randall said of the LPNECDC’s request Thursday.

North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand said on Friday, Sept. 11 that the town board didn’t take action on the request because it hasn’t discussed the request at length yet.

Group wants time

As of Sept. 8, more than 400 property owners had applied for short-term vacation rental permits through the Building and Planning Department. More than 50 known rental owners have not yet applied for a permit and could be facing fines. The LPNECDC’s code review committee is expecting the number of short-term vacation rentals to continue to grow before their work on reviewing the land-use code is complete.

For more than a year, some North Elba town councilors have talked about exploring ways to implement new zoning regulations that would shield some residential neighborhoods from filling with vacation rentals. To be able to accomplish that goal, councilors have repeatedly underscored the importance of data that would allow them to see where rentals are.

“Does it make any sense to allow more short-term rentals to move into that neighborhood?” Dietrich told the village board on Sept. 8. “You don’t close the barn door after the horse has already left.”

Municipalities have to establish a legal basis for imposing a moratorium.

“We think it should happen,” Dietrich told the town board. “Whether it can happen is a legal issue that I’ll leave to the (town and village) counsels.”

Code review

The Land Use Code Review Steering Committee is nearing the end of its preliminary review of the town and village’s joint land-use code, a process spurred by the decision of elected officials to adopt short-term vacation rental regulations. After adding those regulations, the town and village boards requested a full review of the land-use code.

A land-use code is a document that outlines what type of buildings should be built in specific areas, how those buildings should be built and generally where those buildings should be on a property, as well as many other regulations and procedures related to property use, landscaping, utilities and more. It’s this document that underscores decisions made by the North Elba-Lake Placid Joint Review Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The code shared by Lake Placid and North Elba has been revised over the years — the most controversial revision recently was the addition of regulations for short-term vacation rentals — but hasn’t undergone a comprehensive review since 2011. That last comprehensive review was also conducted by the LPNECDC and took three years, according to Dietrich, who also took part in the 2011 process.

After the committee’s initial review is complete, the group wants to hire a consultant to further review the code. The committee had hoped to hire that consultant by the end of the summer, but Dietrich said Sept. 8 that the goal is now to hire that person by Christmas.

Dietrich said in April that the process of rewriting the code will require a lot of public input because the land-use code is meant to reflect and support the community’s vision.