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Committee presents final short-term rental regulation ideas

Lake Placid-North Elba Land Use Code Committee Chair Dean Dietrich refers to proposed STR map overlays as he presents the committee’s recommendations for new STR regulations to town and village boards at a joint meeting between the two boards on July 5. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — A local committee recently presented its suggestions for changes to the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba’s short-term rental regulations at a joint meeting of the town and village boards.

The Lake Placid-North Elba Land Use Code Committee presented its recommendations — and the results of a community survey about its ideas — to town and village boards on July 5 as both municipalities move closer to making changes to their STR regulations. The recommendations also come less than two months before the municipalities’ moratorium on the issuance of new STR permits is set to expire, unless the boards decide to extend it.

The committee is recommending that the village and town prohibit “unhosted” STRs in residential districts in the town and village — with some exceptions — and allow unhosted STRs — with some exceptions — in the village center, the gateway corridor, the Old Military Road corridor and the rural countryside district. The committee believes that hosted STRs, or rentals where the host is on-site, should be allowed anywhere in the town and village. The committee is also recommending that the town and village lift the current limitations on how many days an STR can be rented per year.

The committee’s approach to forming its recommendations for STR regulations is based on the existing Lake Placid-North Elba joint land use code, created in 2011. The committee has created a series of maps — which can be overlaid on the existing land use code’s zoning maps — that identify where the committee believes certain types of STRs should be allowed.

People can see pdfs of the land use code committee’s survey review and final report, along with the proposed STR maps and complete collection of survey responses at https://tinyurl.com/y5zh5ar2. The pdfs are at the bottom of the page under the “Documents” header.

As the end of their permit moratorium draws closer, the town and village boards are working their way through a series of special meetings this month to discuss how they want to regulate STRs. The village board will have special meetings at the North Elba Town Hall at 3:30 p.m. on July 19 and 26. The town council will have special meetings at the North Elba Town Hall at 9 a.m. on July 19 and 27. A public hearing will also be required before town and village boards can adopt new STR regulations.

General thoughts

The land use code committee presented some new ideas for STR regulations in a public meeting in May. After that, the committee hosted two public feedback sessions, where people had a chance to fill out a survey describing their reactions to the recommendations and their feelings about existing STR regulations. There was also an open comment period for a few weeks. The land use code committee’s final presentation of STR regulation recommendations last week included revisions in light of public feedback from the survey.

Altogether, 420 people took the land use code committee’s STR survey in May. Those 420 people were nearly evenly split between STR owners and non-STR owners — 51% said they had an STR permit and around 48% said they didn’t have an STR. Most respondents — around 74% — said they live in Lake Placid or North Elba.

The committee wrote that people who owned STRs responded differently to survey questions than people who didn’t have an STR.

“Most who held an STR permit felt the regulations were adequate, and most who did not hold an STR permit felt the regulations needed improvement,” the report reads.

Around 55% of survey takers either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the survey’s statement that “current STR regulations are sufficient and need no changes,” while 36% either agreed or strongly disagreed and around 9% remained neutral. Most people — around 63% — agreed that “STRs impact neighborhoods.”

Unhosted v. hosted

The land use code committee wrote that it believes hosted STRs should be allowed anywhere in the town and village because those STRs are required to have a resident present during any rental period, making those STRs “compatible with year-round residential use.”

Of the 416 survey takers responding to this suggestion, around 59% agreed or strongly agreed that hosted STRs should be allowed anywhere. Around 23% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the suggestion, while 18% remained neutral.

The land use code committee’s report suggests that, based on survey responses, unhosted STRs “operate more like a business.” Around 66% of 417 survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this idea, while 18% remained neutral and around 15% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

The land use code committee is recommending that unhosted STRs only be allowed in places in the town and village where there’s already a greater variety of property uses, and where there would be “less impact on the residential character of the neighborhood” — which would most likely include the Old Military corridor, the village center, the gateway corridor and the rural countryside district.

Day limitations, caps

Because the land use code committee is suggesting limiting the places where unhosted STRs operate, according to the report, the committee believes that current caps on how many nights an STR should be rented should be lifted.

The committee also evaluated the idea of capping permits, but ultimately decided not to recommend a general permit cap. The committee wrote in its report that capping permits wouldn’t adhere to the land use code-based approach to regulating STRs, and that the recommended regulations would already prohibit unhosted STRs in residential areas, which would act as a sort of cap.

Residential districts

The committee is suggesting that “unhosted” STRs — or rentals where the owner isn’t required to be on site — not be allowed in town and village residential districts, along with parts of the South Lake and North Lake residential districts. That’s if the town and village boards find that unhosted STRs are “less compatible” in districts that are predominantly long-term residential areas with smaller lot sizes, according to the report.

Most survey respondents — around 47% of 409 people who responded to the question — either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the suggestion that only hosted STRs should be allowed in areas where lots are generally less than a half acre. Around 39% agreed or strongly agreed, while 13% remained neutral.

The committee wants to include parts of the South and North lake districts in this consideration because some areas in those districts don’t have sewer and/or road access. The committee believes this poses some health and safety risks without hosts present, according to Dietrich. Around 42% of 411 survey takers either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea that unhosted STRs should be prohibited in the North Lake district, with around 35% of 411 respondents either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing and around 22% remaining neutral.

There would be some exceptions to this rule, specifically for lots on the north shore of Mirror Lake and properties on Rousseaumont Way and Peninsula Way. The committee believes these areas tend to have larger lots with less density of development and more seasonal homes, according to the report. The committee is suggesting these specific areas should be allowed to have unhosted STRs.

Unhosted exceptions

The village center, Old Military Road corridor, the rural countryside district and the gateway corridor would be areas where both unhosted and hosted STRs would be allowed if town and village boards follow the land use code committee’s suggestions. However, the committee put forth a few possible exceptions to its recommendation.

The land use code committee is suggesting that the town and village completely discontinue STRs in Main Street-level properties along the Main Street “pedestrian corridor” — a stretch of road from the intersection of Saranac Avenue and Main Street to Mill Hill. The committee believes discontinuing STRs on Main Street’s ground level would help local businesses and help maintain the tourism draw in that area. Most of 415 people who responded to this question in the survey, around 58%, either agreed or strongly agreed with this idea. Around 24% either disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 18% remained neutral.

The committee also suggested prohibiting unhosted STRs in the Deerwood development off of River Road, in the rural countryside district. The committee wrote that the lots in this area are generally smaller than most of the rural countryside district and that the pattern of development there is mostly long-term residential. Many of the 410 survey responses were split on this idea. Around 30% were neutral, around 39% either agreed or strongly agreed with the suggestion, and around 31% either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Planned developments, condos

The committee is suggesting that four areas with hotels — the Placid Gold, Mirror Lake Inn, Whiteface Inn and Resort and the Crowne Plaza properties — be allowed to have both hosted and unhosted STRs. The committee is also recommending that four areas where new housing developments are being planned — the Peaks at Lake Placid, Fawn Valley, MacKenzie Outlook and Fawn Ridge properties — not allow unhosted STRs. Some of those developments are already either deed-restricted to entirely prohibit STRs or require tenants to sign a one-year lease.

Under current STR regulations, condominiums and townhomes in the area are exempt from existing day limits because those limits are decided by the developments’ homeowners associations. While those exemptions would continue under the committee’s new recommendations that day limits be eliminated, the committee is proposing that any new condominium complexes must adhere to STR rules of the zoning district they’re built in. That means that if a new condo complex is built in the rural countryside, a homeowners association could allow unhosted and hosted STRs there. But if a new condo complex is built in a residential area, only hosted rentals would be allowed there.

Enforcement, monitoring

Current regulations allow people in any district to apply for a 14-day STR permit, sometimes called an “event permit.” The committee wrote that enforcement of these permits is hard because the code enforcement officer has no way to know if occupancy of those rentals is actually being limited to 14 days. The committee is proposing that people applying for a 14-day permit be required to identify the specific two-week period they’d be renting their home out. Since that would require another level of enforcement, the committee encouraged board members to consider charging a fee for these permits.

The committee wrote that many survey-takers raised issues with STR enforcement. The committee believes this is partially due to what it called a “one size fits all” approach to penalizing people who violate STR regulations. Right now, all violations of STR regulations are considered misdemeanors. The committee’s report states that enforcing these violations can be expensive and time-consuming, and the committee believes that lesser offenses — like having an illegal sandwich board — don’t need a court process and “are best resolved by the people involved in the enforcement process, and experts in the field.”

The committee believes that it’s “extremely important” to track how enforcement of and any changes to STR regulations affect the town and village over time.

Transition

According to the committee’s report, around 130 existing STR permits would no longer be in compliance with the land use code if the town and village boards adopt the committee’s recommendations as-is.

The committee’s survey asked people when they thought new regulations should go into effect.

Most people — 42% — said non-compliant permits should be discontinued with a change in property ownership or until the existing permit has expired without an effort to renew. Thirty-four percent of people said the changes should go into effect as soon as the town and village boards adopt their new STR regulations. Eleven percent of people said the changes should go into effect within five years, and 13% responded with “other.”