Letter to the Business Owners of Chatham

Dear Chatham business owner,

I am writing you as a fellow Chatham business owner. I want to call your attention to the new town zoning proposal that is headed rapidly to a vote by the town board. I am very concerned the zoning regulations currently proposed will have a negative and detrimental impact on area businesses. 

Whether or not you live in Chatham, as a business owner in the town or village, your livelihood will be affected by these regulations. Furthermore, the businesses in Chatham hire the residents of Chatham – and availability of local jobs should be a top concern for the town board. 

If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the zoning proposal, here are just a few highlights that are particularly important for business owners to understand:

1.     Short Term Rentals The proposed regulations surrounding short-term rentals (such as AirBnB, VRBO, or a house-swap) will dramatically impact and choke off tourism and shopping in the town and village. Anything that drives down rentals of otherwise unoccupied homes will have a ripple impact through many businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, landscapers, cleaning services.  (§180-41, p150)

2.     Wedding Receptions, Parties and Special Events are not permitted in residential areas (unless part of a farm operation). They are permitted in business and industrial zones without a special use permit. (table, p66) This might impact a business that caters to home weddings and parties. Photographers may have less events to photograph. Caterers, Florists, DJ’s, Musicians, cake bakers etc. will also all feel the reduction. 

3.     Home-based businesses The section on home occupations will take control of the home-based businesses in the area. The proposed zoning has language that breaks down home occupations into levels. Depending on the level you fall into you can find yourself limited in the number of vehicles, employees or contractors you can have. (§180-41, p150)

4.     Auto repair businesses The proposed zoning law has a number of regulations surrounding auto repair businesses. They are prohibited in most residential areas and permitted in business and industrial zones under certain conditions. Pages (§180-58, Section B p172-173) have a lengthy list of regulations surrounding auto repair and sales. Any of the automotive businesses in the town would do well to read these sections closely.

5.     Construction work, building, excavating etc. may quickly run afoul of the noise ordinance if it falls outside the permitted timeframes (p166.)

6.     Restaurants must screen front facing parking lots (p179). This regulation was questioned in a recent board meeting and the owners were assured that their establishment parking was “grandfathered”. However the language is absent from the proposed zoning laws. It’s also unclear what would happen if a restaurant was sold or transferred to new ownership. Parking is vital to restaurants! 

It is a constant struggle to keep a business open– much less thriving– in Chatham. Zoning laws that intrude unnecessarily upon business owners’ ability to operate profitably will ultimately devastate the retail and commercial opportunities in Chatham. Zoning must support the businesses that are here to serve the town, not make it harder to survive. 

I, frankly, am worried that these changes will be the difference between being able to keep my shop open for our 6th year…. or not. We are dependent upon tourists, renters, and special events in addition to full-time citizens to round out our monthly numbers.

If you want to share how the proposed zoning will likely impact your business, please send your story to chathamnycitizens@gmail.com for publication on the Chatham United “Letters to the Community” page.  

You can learn more at www.chathamunited.org. You can pick up buttons to show solidarity with concerned locals at 1811 Antiques or Bimi’s Cheese Shop on Main Street.

Finally, please join the conversation and make your concerns known! Talk about these issues to your neighbors and fellow business owners. Most importantly, come to the upcoming town meetings. The next Town Board special meeting on this issue is:

Monday, July 8th at 6:00PM


111 CR 13, Old Chatham, NY

The format of this meeting is quite strict: questions regarding zoning must be written one question per card on cards distributed at the door. These cards will be submitted to the moderators who will select which questions will be answered. Please don’t be discouraged by this! The more businesses that show up and participate will help us all!

Thanks for your thoughtful consideration,

Ellen Waggett, Bimi’s Cheese Shop


Below is a link to the Q&A put out by the town council this week and a link to the zoning map. Take the time to read it carefully.

The new, restrictive zoning laws will negatively impact every citizen, from born-and-bred local, to second-home owner, to business owner. Understanding these proposed changes is critical for everyone! (We have a brief summary here that only includes highlights of the law.)

As for the short-term rental restrictions, if you are a second home owner, work for a second home owner or work for or have a business that relies on tourism you have a lot to be concerned about.

In a nutshell, if you are a second homeowner you can only rent a STR if you are in one of the limited business or industrial areas, and you are only allowed to do so for 30 days annually.

The town council has made several small concessions and worded the FAQ to try to put a positive spin on the new laws, when in fact the new laws are so restrictive, it makes no sense for anyone to have a short term rental in the Town of Chatham, especially second home owners.

There will be a a PUBLIC HEARING on the overall New Proposed Zoning Laws at the Tri-Village Firehouse on Monday, July 1st at 6pm. Please attend and make your voice heard.



The Town of Chatham wants to ban Short Term Rentals

The Town Board in Chatham is in the process of completing and voting on a new zoning law that includes a provision that would make the vast majority of short term rentals in the Town of Chatham illegal.  Residents who currently have short term rental properties would not have the option to be grandfathered in.

The new law currently states: 

“short-term rentals as defined in this local law are home occupation businesses that take place in an owner’s primary residence and that they are distinct from dwellings that are not the primary residence of an owner and that are used primarily as a business for rental income.”

The proposal also says, “It shall be unlawful to use, establish, maintain, operate, occupy, rent or lease any property as a short‐term rental if the property is not both the owner’s primary residence and owner‐occupied for a minimum of 183 days in the calendar year.”

We love Chatham. Some of us live here full-time, and for some of us, Chatham is a bucolic escape from our lives in more hectic places. Our children have grown up here, and equally love it. This is our home. The recent advent of short-term rental opportunities has enabled us to selectively share our homes with carefully vetted folks who want to enjoy a taste of Chatham, and the larger Berkshire Foothills area that we so love. Since these properties are our homes, we carefully vet our renters, collect large security deposits, have more-than-adequate insurance and maintain a local support network to keep an eye on our homes while we are not there. This is a win-win for both individuals, and the community.

1.    Homeowners can offset costs, allowing them to keep their homes, and frequently allowing seniors to “age in place” rather than having to leave the community they love—53% of AirBnB hosts report that income earned from hosting has helped them stay in their homes.

2.    The village and its shop owners see increased foot traffic and increased sales—research suggests that 42% of the daytime revenue brought by tourists stays in the local community.

3.    The larger community thrives because increased employment of local support staff brings jobs and economic vitality to the area.

4.    Our visitors experience a vibrant and beautiful Chatham, that they frequently fall in love with so much, they seek to purchase a home here.

5. The Internal Revenue Service does not recognize short-term rentals as home businesses. Income reported to the IRS for STRs is filed on the same schedule as any other long-term rental property.

The restrictions that owners be on premises during a rental and not rent more than 6 times a year will essentially eliminate the short-term rental market and all the good it brings to the community.

Well-managed short-term rentals (careful vetting, security deposits, local support) make Chatham more desirable, and, in this fast-changing world, help keep it the very special place it is. Safeguards, such as permitting, make perfect sense and we are all for them. But limiting or eliminating short-term rentals in Chatham is a huge step backward for the town, the village and its residents.

This is our home. We want to stay in this very special place, and allow our children to bring their children here as well. Please reconsider these restrictions that will severely limit the options open to residents, and the potential for the community as a whole.

Contact the Town Board to voice your concerns.