For town of Wilmington, two years is too long for short-term rental reform

Short-term vacation rentals should play by the same rules as everyone else.

When a person, family, business partnership, or corporation wants to open a hotel, motel, or traditional B&B in Wilmington, they need to obtain a special use permit from our planning board.

Obtaining a special use permit is not a formidable obstacle — the vast majority of those sought are granted — but the process gives neighboring property owners a chance to view plans, ask questions, seek limits and compromises, and be heard. Our planning board can grant special use permits, grant special use permits with conditions, and grant special use permits that are limited in duration in order to give the board the opportunity to provide future oversight and neighboring property owners future opportunities to be heard.

Our planning board currently has the ability to review applications and plans submitted by mechanics, restaurateurs, shopkeepers, and innkeepers who wish to conduct business in Wilmington.

Wilmington residents want our town board to vote to treat whole-home vacation rentals as the businesses they clearly are, allow our planning board to provide oversight, and give neighboring residents the opportunity to have a say.

It is difficult to fathom how anyone could object to these requests.

Unfortunately, a guest commentary signed by STR owners and their employees was published in this newspaper last summer (“Supporters for growth in Wilmington,” July 14), which treats the application of our zoning codes to vacation rental businesses as an omen that “some are for a communist country.”

But as many residents of Wilmington are aware, no property owner in Wilmington has absolute free rein to do whatever they want with their real estate — because an individual’s decisions can impact neighboring residents. To provide guidelines, rules and limits for the good of the entire community, Wilmington’s leaders adopted zoning laws in the 1970s, 1980s and in 2013.

In addition to a unique perspective on the evenhanded application of our zoning codes, “Supporters for growth” dispenses muddled and/or inaccurate talking points.

The Supporters for Growth write that “STRs don’t get any taxes breaks!”

In truth, as explained at length in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise recently, STRs benefit from state and federal tax breaks (“Wilmington deserves respect, Part II,” Oct. 21).

Most people know that landowners pay property taxes.

And most people agree that businesses should pay business taxes.

And all Wilmington residents and taxpayers should be aware that the annual fees Wilmington is set to charge whole-home vacation rental businesses ($150, plus $25 per bedroom) are extremely low.

Town spending is expected to increase by around $57,000 next year. According to numbers provided by AirDNA.co, a $500 annual fee assessed to the 130 whole-home STRs in Wilmington would raise roughly $65,000 annually, and increasing the town’s annual per-bedroom STR fee from $25 to $100 would raise another $42,000 annually.

If the whole-home vacation rentals in our community paid a $500 annual fee, Wilmington’s town board could increase town spending next year as planned — without raising residential property taxes. And if Wilmington’s town board voted to adjust the per-bedroom fee from $25 to $100, our leaders could cut property taxes.

Although it is a very flawed document, “Supporters for growth” raises at least one good question. The Supporters ask, “Why would we follow behind Lake Placid when our issues and needs are different.”

The village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba first adopted STR laws in early 2020. As many know, both the town and the village are on the cusp of adopting updated and improved STR laws.

Meanwhile, some of Wilmington’s leaders want to tie our town, for the next two years, to an ordinance that is based upon and extremely similar to — yet, remarkably, is even more permissive than — Lake Placid’s overly permissive and obsolete local law.

There are some who believe Wilmington ought to begin dispensing two-year STR licenses and, by doing so, bind Wilmington to a vacation rental law that is a pale replica of the laws our neighbors adopted nearly three years ago.

Why are we merely following behind Lake Placid?

This is a valid question. It should be directed to the members of Wilmington’s town council who seem determined to ignore the many community members who have asked their elected officials to pump the brakes and draft a better law before Wilmington begins distributing long-term permits and locks an insufficient law into place for many months to come.

Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer once said, “We feel that people that are putting a vacation rental next to residential areas — that those people that live in those neighborhoods should have a direct say in what goes into their areas, considering that’s not what was there when they bought their property” (“Wilmington moves toward short-term rental regulations,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, March 7, 2020).

Our supervisor also said, “We want to have protections in place for our neighborhoods” (“Wilmington to look at short-term rental regulations,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Jan. 10, 2020).

As our supervisor stated, the residents of Wilmington deserve a say about which businesses are permitted in their residential neighborhoods, in part because they did not intend to purchase a piece of property surrounded by hotel-like businesses.

We applaud Supervisor Holzer’s previous statements. In fact, they should serve as the starting point for the discussions of a committee immediately established to update Wilmington’s short-term vacation rental (STR) law before town officials start issuing long-term permits and, by doing so, lock a meek and outdated STR law into place for at least 730 days.

Our town board can establish this committee at its next meeting — at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10.

At that meeting, our elected officials will have the opportunity to vote to treat whole- home vacation rentals as the businesses they clearly are; to address the genuine concerns of hundreds of Wilmington residents; and to harness the Airbnb boom for the benefit of middle-class taxpayers.

We ask our town board to make the most of these opportunities.

Carol Wiebe, Christina Anderson, Charles Assetta, Jane Assetta, Bob Cressey, Nancy Cressey, Nancy Gonyea, Wesley Gonyea, Gary Grady, Brigette Levitt, Keith Lyon, Megan Lyon, Jessica Mulvey, Wyatt Peck, Renate Schneider, Shawn Stephenson, Joe Wichtowski, Theresa Wichtowski, Kimberly Winch, Randy Winch, Daniel Winkler, Noelle Wood, Jeri Wright


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