Columbia Paper Article

In Chatham, short-term rentals spark prolonged debate

March 14, 2019 by EMILIA TEASDALE

CHATHAM–The Town Board held another public hearing on the proposed new zoning law March 7. It drew a full house at Town Hall, with most people addressing the issue of regulations on short-term rentals.

Many who spoke are homeowners who either rent out part of their property or own a second home in town that they rent for short-term stays. There were also several business owners from the Village of Chatham who spoke in support of having short-term rentals in the town to bring tourism to Main Street.

The town is proposing changes to the current zoning law that would be in line with the town’s Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2009. A committee of residents and Town Board members as well as Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg has been reviewing the laws and making changes since last 2017.

Though there are several changes in the proposed zoning law, the change addressed by most people who have spoken at the last three public hearings involves regulations on short-term rentals, which are not covered in the current zoning law. People at last week’s meeting had an issue with a residency requirement for those who rent out property. The proposed law, which is online at the Chatham Town website, reads in part, “This local law establishes that 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.”

“This amounts to a ban on short-term rentals,” said Sally Simmons, describing the proposed regulations for second-home owners.

Many people said that they need to rent out their houses on short-term basis so they can earn enough to afford the property.

At public hearings board members typically do not comment but instead listen to concerns from residents. Ms. Stolzenburg and John Lyons, the town’s attorney for land use, were also at the hearing.

After the public hearing, the board went into a closed door session with Mr. Lyons, one of his associates and Ms. Stolzenburg. Mr. Lyons said that no resolutions could be passed in the closed door session. “All you can do is obtain advice from your attorney,” he said.

Councilman John Wapner was the only board member who voted against going into the closed door session, saying that the board had told residents they would discuss the zoning in an open meeting.

During the public hearing, local attorney Mitchell Khosrova said that there were no notes or research provided by the board on how they came up with the short-term rental law.

“You’re not going to win if anyone sues you,” Mr. Khosrova said of the proposed law during the public hearing.

Also during the open meeting, attorney Paul Freeman, representing some local homeowners, told the board that there were “drastic changes” in the proposed law and that “there are a number of inconsistencies” in the wording which leaves “many unanswered questions.”

“So far, I have only heard one complaint to the board on one Airbnb,” he said, pointing out all the barriers and restrictions in the law that would face second-home owners who want to offer short-term rentals. And he talked about case law in other places that supported short-term rentals.

Heather Uhler, a resident of Thomas Road, said that she supported regulations for short-term rentals since there was one on her road that she said was rented to large groups, calling it “a party house” and saying, “That’s a hotel.”

“This is a big problem for me,” she said.

Jeffrey Hunt, the president and CEO of the county Chamber of Commerce, said that his board supported more availability for lodging for tourists in the county. He said there are 390 Airbnb short-term rentals in the county and that 300 of them are in Hudson. He pointed out that local events benefit from having places to stay.

Mr. Khosrova and others talked about a compromise that would separate the proposed shot-term rental regulations from the rest of the proposed zoning law and adopting the other changes.

“This particular project should not hold back the Comprehensive Plan,” said resident Van Calhoun. He said that the board should pass the new zoning law and then the board can start updating the Comprehensive Plan as well as take the time to review the short-term rental issue carefully.

Another resident, Donal Collins, had questions about other proposed changes. He was concerned about outdoor wood boilers being prohibited and that day camps are prohibited in several parts of the town. Resident Lucinda Buckley also had concerns about focusing on one section of the zoning law, when the proposed changes are an overhaul of all the town’s zoning.

Town Supervisor Maria Lull said that any changes to the zoning proposals will be on the town’s website at http://chathamnewyork.us.

The next Town Board meeting is Thursday, March 21 at 6 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com

Contact the Town Board to voice your concerns.

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