LAKE PLACID — The Village of Lake Placid Board of Directors discussed on Tuesday two requests from landlords seeking an exception to the village’s active moratorium on issuing new short-term vacation rental permits.
The discussion comes as the board prepares to approve or deny nominations this month. The majority of council members seem to be leaning towards rejecting the candidacies.
The Village Council and North Elba City Council passed local laws in early March activating a six-month moratorium on issuing new STR permits as councils consider changes to their STR regulations. Local laws include an allowance for deviations or exceptions to the moratorium. People can appeal to the village clerk for an exception to the moratorium if they believe it “would impose practical difficulties or extraordinary hardships” on them, in accordance with the law.
A public hearing for waiver requests is required by law before the village can approve an exception, and the village council must approve or deny requests within 30 days of a public hearing. Council held a public hearing for the two waiver requests at its May 16 meeting; that gives the council until June 15 to decide whether or not to grant the two candidates an exception to the moratorium.
The only council meeting between now and June 15 will be on June 6, but council members could choose to call a special meeting to vote on the nominations.
Council plans to hold a public hearing for a third waiver application at 4:30 p.m. on June 6, before the regular council meeting that evening. While council was unsure at the May waiver hearing whether or not it wanted to hear public comment on the exception requests, council eventually allowed three people from the public to speak. Village clerk Anita Estling confirmed on Wednesday that council would allow public comment at the June 6 public hearing.
An applicant, David Berger, is asking council to grant him an STR permit for a property on Saranac Avenue in the entrance corridor. He told council at the public hearing in May that if he did not get an STR permit, he would not be able to get the “hundreds and thousands” of dollars he spent to renovate the property. Berger estimated a financial loss of between $118,300 and $150,150 if he did not obtain an STR permit before the moratorium ended.
Berger, who said he lives in New Jersey, bought the property after his son was admitted to Northwood School in March last year. Berger and his wife planned to live there for a year while their son attended school before using the house as an STR, but his son left Northwood shortly after starting and Berger decided to use the home as STR earlier than expected. When he applied for the permit, Berger said in May, the moratorium had been in place for a few days. Berger said he didn’t know there was an upcoming moratorium.
The second plaintiff, Pennsylvania resident Brendan Wilson, is seeking a waiver for his McKinley Street home. When he and his partner, Ann Rinaldi, closed their home in February, the moratorium was not yet active. While the couple plan to move into their home permanently within three to four years, Wilson told the board in May, they plan to rent it out as STRs to help pay the mortgage in the meantime. . He said the couple plan to stay home sometimes too. Wilson estimated they would lose about $25,000 if they were unable to rent the property during the moratorium.
During the regular council business session on Tuesday afternoon, village mayor Art Devlin asked council members if they had thought about nominations.
“I don’t think we should make exceptions” said administrator Jackie Kelly.
Administrator Peter Holderied agreed.
Administrator Jason Leon said he would prefer to make a decision informed by recommendations from the Lake Placid-North Elba Land Use Code Committee, which is in the process of making recommendations on how STRs could be regulations to present to town and village councils. But since the committee is not expected to make its formal presentation of recommendations until the end of June, Leon said he agreed with Kelly and Holderied.
Administrator Marc Galvin said he paid for an ad on his Facebook page to gauge people’s support for the spread grant. He said he received 35 responses — 33 people said the council shouldn’t make exceptions to the moratorium, according to Galvin, and two people said there should be exceptions. Galvin said he does not support the moratorium because it is a general moratorium that applies to commercial districts like Saranac Avenue – where the land use code committee proposes the use of hosted and non-hosted STRs – as well as to residential districts, where the committee is proposing to ban non-hosted STRs. Galvin thought there should be exceptions to the moratorium in trading districts.
Galvin said he could “easily” approve the Saranac Avenue exception and reject the McKinley Street application for these reasons. Or, he says, “if we’re really not going to make exceptions, then why are we going through the process?”
Devlin told council members they couldn’t just say “no exceptions” since local law allows it — he said members must give a concrete reason why they believe applicants did or did not qualify as financial hardship cases.
Devlin brought up the McKinley Street case. He said Wilson and Rinaldi can only rent their home as STRs for 90 days a year, under current restrictions on the number of nights an STR can be rented in that area. Devlin thought the couple could rent the house long-term, earn the same amount of money, and fulfill their dream of moving to Lake Placid. Holderied and Galvin noted that the couple could not personally use the property in the meantime if a tenant was there long-term.
“It’s not a problem for us” said Devlin.
Devlin believed the couple knew about the moratorium before closing their home in February. Wilson told the board in May that he and Rinaldi didn’t know about the moratorium until early March. Otherwise, Wilson said, they might have reconsidered buying the house.
Devlin said on Tuesday that “Pandora’s box” could open up if the council starts granting exceptions to the moratorium. For Devlin, the nominations have raised what he sees as a wider issue of STRs pushing out local people who want to live here.
“It’s another vacation rental taking away a house that someone lived in, a longtime person,” he said. “I just don’t agree with that.”
Leon agreed. He said he was conflicted about the demands, although he said the “breaking point” for him, it was that he thought the applicants knew about the moratorium in advance or were not active enough in seeking a permit before the moratorium.
Kelly returned to Galvin’s question about why local law would allow deviations if the council did not want to approve them. She said the city attorney “strongly” recommended the wording of the local law, and she thought that was why exceptions were being considered. Kelly said it’s difficult to determine if an applicant is experiencing financial hardship because of the moratorium. That’s why she thought it should be a “at all levels ‘no’.”
“Unless it’s a real exception,” Devlin added.
Kelly asked what would be considered a serious exception.
“Obviously we didn’t see that, otherwise we’d all be on board,” said Devlin.
Leon reiterated that the two candidates could possibly rent long-term to subsidize their income.
In May, the two candidates were asked if they would consider renting long-term. Berger said he could do it, but he “wouldn’t make good business sense. Wilson said he would think about it if the village did not grant him an STR permit.
There are just over three months left in the moratorium on new STR permits, which ends in early September. Over the next three months, Devlin said he hopes the board can decide on a “smart path” for the village when it comes to regulating STRs.
The village council also began discussing potential STR regulations during its workshop on Tuesday. An article on this discussion will appear in tomorrow’s edition of the Enterprise.