LAKE PLACID – The Lake Placid-North Elba Land Use Code Committee presented its ideas on Thursday for how short-term vacation rentals could be regulated in the town and village, including prohibiting unhosted STRs in densely-packed residential areas.
There is an active moratorium in the town and village pausing the issuance of new STR permits as the municipalities consider changes to their STR regulations. The moratorium follows a more than year-long period when the town and village could not make major changes to their STR regulations due to an active lawsuit brought against the municipalities by a group of STR owners. Now that the lawsuit has been lifted, the town and village have said they want time to reformulate STR regulations established in 2020 and get public feedback on where the rentals should be and under what circumstances.
The land use code committee has worked for years on developing ideas for STR regulations, and committee member Dean Dietrich presented those ideas to the public on Thursday.
Around 40 people attended the land use code committee’s virtual presentation, which displayed a series of village and town maps that tie the committee’s ideas for STR regulations to specific districts identified by the town and village joint land use code. The land use code splits the town and village into the rural countryside district; North Lake, South Lake, town and village residential districts; the village center; the gateway corridor; and the Old Military Road corridor. The committee is essentially suggesting zoning STRs according to those districts; the committee’s STR maps can generally be overlaid on the land use code’s district maps. If the maps are adopted, Dietrich said they’d be an amendment to the joint land use code.
Dietrich said some more commercially-driven districts, like the village center and gateway corridor, might be better suited for unhosted short-term rentals while tightly-knit residential areas might be better protected from being overtaken by STRs if unhosted rentals weren’t allowed there .
People can view the committee’s presentation at tinyurl.com/3fwdxnnu.
The land use code committee is hosting two public information and feedback sessions for its STR maps at the Lake Placid Middle-High School cafeteria on Saturday, May 14 from 10 am to noon and Monday, May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm The committee will be available to answer questions and listen to feedback from the community at the sessions, according to Dietrich. People will also have the opportunity to view the committee’s STR maps and fill out comment cards and a survey.
“This will be your opportunity to share your ideas and your responses to the ideas that we are presenting today,” Dietrich said Thursday.
There is also a public comment period on the committee’s ideas open until May 30. People who want to submit a public comment or who cannot attend the public feedback session can email questions and comments to Community Development Director Haley Breen at hbreen @ northelba. org.
Dietrich said that after the public comment period ends, the committee plans to evaluate all of the community feedback and prepare a report of STR regulation recommendations to town and village boards. He said he hopes the committee can prepare that report by the beginning of July, which would give the boards a couple of months to make their decision about how they will move forward before the STR moratorium ends in September.
Dietrich specified many times throughout the presentation that he wasn’t outlining the land use code committee’s recommendations for STR regulations – he called them “Ideas” and “Suggestions,” and he encouraged people to provide input on his presentation in the future.
The land use code committee based its ideas for STR regulations on what Dietrich said was a four or five year discussion about vacation rentals, which produced a set of principles based on what the committee heard and read from the public about the rentals in hearings and forums .
One principle Dietrich highlighted was the perception that hosted and unhosted STRs have different impacts on neighborhoods. He said the committee has heard people say that unhosted rentals seem to operate like a business and that they reduce the availability of full-time residential housing.
Dietrich said some people have noted that STRs provide an economic benefit to the community by contributing occupancy tax dollars and providing traffic to area businesses, which the committee considered in its guiding principles.
Unhosted vs. hosted STRs
There are 473 active STR permits that are relatively evenly divided between the town and village, according to data presented by Dietrich. He said about 15% of inhabitable units in the town are used for short-term rentals. Of all the STRs in the town and village, Dietrich said 67%, or 310 rentals, are unhosted.
Dietrich presented some statistics suggesting that unhosted STRs create more disruption to the community. He said the vast majority of 115 complaints lodged against STRs from August 2020 to April 2022 were noise complaints, and most of those complaints were from unhosted STRs in the village, where lot patterns are more dense. Of those complaints, Dietrich said, 40 were from two unhosted STRs alone.
The committee wants to allow hosted STRs and 14-day rentals in every location, like they are now, Dietrich said. What the committee wanted to examine more closely was where unhosted STRs should and shouldn’t be allowed.
Dietrich said the committee is looking at densely-packed residential areas – listing Liberty Hill, Averyville Lane, Johnson Avenue, Signal Hill and others – as places where unhosted STRs could not operate. He said some areas with larger lot sizes and lower assessed values outside of the residential areas – like Deerwood trails in the rural countryside – might be eligible for workforce or long-term residential housing, and the committee wants to add those areas to the list of places where unhosted STRs wouldn’t be allowed.
The committee is applying the same principles to the Ray Brook area – keeping unhosted STRs in main corridors with businesses, along with rural areas with large lots, and possibly prohibiting unhosted STRs in town and village neighborhoods and on lots with lower measured values.
Dietrich said that if unhosted STRs become prohibited in certain areas, town and village boards would have to decide how long STRs that are currently allowed there could continue to operate. He said there were around 130 STRs in dense neighborhoods that wouldn’t be allowed anymore if the new maps are adopted. Dietrich asked the public to give some feedback on that process, providing some examples from immediate termination to allowing the STR to operate until the property ownership changes or the STR permit lapses.
Dietrich said the committee thinks that some areas that already have a “Fairly intense commercial use” – like the gateway corridor along Saranac Avenue and the village center along Main Street – should allow unhosted STRs since they have already allowed bed and breakfasts in the land use code. One caveat the committee is suggesting to that allowance is that the STRs could not operate on ground floor levels, which Dietrich said would help maintain the activity and land use that’s already happening on Main Street and other commercial areas.
Another area the committee is suggesting as appropriate for unhosted STRs is a corridor along Old Military Road, from the firehouse up Mill Pond and up a portion of Wesvalley Road, and along Old Military Road past Lake Placid Elementary School and the Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center. Dietrich said that corridor already allows bed and breakfasts under the land use code and acts as a main corridor for visitor traffic.
The land use code committee is suggesting that some planned developments in the town and village that act more like resorts, like the Whiteface Inn or the Crown Plaza, be allowed to continue operating unhosted STRs. But for developments intended to create residential housing, like the Peaks at Lake Placid and MacKenzie Outlook, the committee wants to ensure that use by prohibiting unhosted STRs in those areas.
For the rural countryside district, the committee is suggesting allowing unhosted STRs since lot sizes are larger and there’s less likely to be neighborhood disruption, Dietrich said. He thought that the rural countryside district did not provide as much of an opportunity for full-time residential or workforce housing since those lots are often measured higher. The committee is suggesting removing Deerwood Trails and adding North Mirror Lake, Ruisseaumont Road and the Peninsula area to the rural countryside STR map. Hotels and bed and breakfasts would continue to not be allowed in the district, in keeping with the current land use code.
Some lots in the town and village, like the northern part of Lake Placid and the North Shore residential district, generally don’t have public roads or sewer and water. The committee is suggesting prohibiting unhosted STRs in those areas, too, since they do not have easy access to emergency services.
When it comes to condominium and townhome developments, the committee is suggesting that existing developments – which operate under homeowners associations – keep their current ability to decide whether or not they want to allow STRs. But for new condo and townhome complexes, the committee wants those developments to follow the rules of that location as defined by the STR zoning maps. So if a condo was being built in a residential area on the map, unhosted STRs likely wouldn’t be allowed there.
When does STR become a hotel? The land use code committee is suggesting that any location operating more than two short-term rental units are considered a hotel. Dietrich said that since STR regulations went into effect in 2020, a lot of people are planning smaller hotels that operate more like an STR. He said the committee wants to put conditions on those smaller hotels to protect the health and safety of neighborhoods.
Hotels and bed and breakfasts can only operate in certain districts, according to the land use code, and codifying an STR with more than two units as a hotel would keep STRs from operating in districts where hotels aren’t allowed, like the rural countryside.
Dietrich also encouraged people to weigh in on the 14-day permit, sometimes called the “Event permit.” He wanted to know if people thought the permit should be continued, extended or abolished – if it helps people pay rent, or if it “Doesn’t seem to be working at all.” The committee is generally looking for input on the amount of days different types of STRs in any given area should be rented. He also encouraged people to give their feedback on the STR complaint system, though he said it isn’t the land use code committee’s job to improve that system.
He added that incorporating STR regulations into the joint land use code may not be the only way to address STRs. He said some other municipalities have said the rentals could operate anywhere, instead of opting to place a cap on the total number of permits allowed there. He said the committee is looking for discussion about the idea.