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Code committee poised to send draft short term rental law to village board, public

Controversial new short term rental draft code could soon be up for public review in Greenport.

Yesterday, the code committee met to discuss the most recent draft, and to discuss changes.

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard said the committee had just received a letter from Doug Moore, chair of the zoning board of appeals, with some questions.

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who sits on the code committee, said that New York State might soon be cracking down and collecting taxes from short-term rental operators, changing the face of the landscape.

Committee member Michelle Schott said the draft might lead to some confusion; as it stands, a short term rental could only exist in a two-family home, with a complete and separate unit for rental. She said some individuals in Greenport have a carriage house or garage that’s been legally converted to a second dwelling, and they should not be shut out of being able to supplement their income.

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard, who also sits on the code committee, said the legislation was meant to allow for those separate accessory dwellings, as long as they were operating with a certificate of occupancy — and the properties were owner occupied.

Under the draft, all short-term rentals must be owner occupied; yesterday, the committee clarified that definition to say that as long as the owner was on the property or parcel, the short-term rental would be allowed.

A single bedroom could not be used for a short-term rental; that would require that a home be a B&B, Hubbard said.

Committee member Frank Uellendahl asked about longtime Greenport residents who want to continue a tradition of going away for two months on a trip, and renting out their home for that vacation period.

“I have a soft spot for this,” he said. “Why shouldn’t they be allowed to do this, to pay their bills?”

Hubbard said as the draft now stands, that would no longer be allowed, but said the legislation would next go to the town board and then, a public hearing would be scheduled so residents can weigh in.

As the draft stands, a short term rental can be any period under 30 days, as long as the property is owner occupied and operated; the parcel can be rented for any number of days or weekends within that 30 day period. Owners would be allowed to advertise via social media. A $500 permit fee would be required of homeowners.

Uellendahl said with Southold recently adopting new short term rental legislation that prohibited short term rentals of less than 14 days, the restrictive law would send visitors to Greenport; he said the village would need to be more prohibitive to keep the droves away.

“The pressure’s on us,” he said. He added that there’s an “uneasy” feeling in the community, with an “onslaught” of visitors and many private homes being rented on airbnb and other social media sites.

Schott said the bigger issue is the village’s year-round rental code, with some homeowners opting out of renting altogether due to the stringent requirements and year-round rental options shrinking.

Trustee Jack Martilotta, who also sits on the code committee, asked what steps would be taken to prove that a dwelling or parcel was owner occupied.

Criteria would need to be developed, Hubbard said, adding the reason why he didn’t vote for the year-round rental law was because it asked the board to weigh in on what determined a “family,” something he felt was not appropriate; Phillips agreed.

“Where you lay your head down at night means owner-occupied,” Hubbard said.

The threat of litigation was something to consider, Martilotta said, adding that he’s been studying instances around the country and said consideration must be given to the fact that homeowners could potentially sue the village for any short term rental legislation.

“I just want to be sure we’re not setting ourselves up to be slammed,” he said.

At first, the idea was to bring the discussion back to the code committee next month; Schott said she’d like to see the draft presented to the village board, and then the public hearing process started. The committee agreed and the draft will be sent to the village board this month.

“I’ve been accused of jamming this down people’s throats,” Hubbard said. “I’m not.” He added that what he wanted was to be mindful of the year’s worth of work that had gone into the draft even before he and Martilotta were on the code committee.

Residents Virginia Ludacer and Ellen Schnepel spoke to the committee; Schnepel said she felt the legislation was stacked against those renting out their residences and “undermining our freedom to do what we want with our homes.”

Ludacer said she would like to be able to still travel on vacation and rent out her home; self-employed, she does not get paid vacation and said the income helped. “Is it better that the house be empty?” she asked, reminding that the renters frequent village restaurants and shops.

Hubbard said all those views could be expressed in the public hearing process.

Resident John Winkler said he’d like commercial enterprises in the village that operate a short-term rental in the apartments above their businesses included in any code; the mayor said any business operating a short-term rental currently in an upstairs apartment was not allowed to be doing so.

“They shouldn’t be,” he said, adding that code enforcement would investigate.

Trustee Doug Roberts, who has said he was not happy with the mayor’s decision to draft a code calling for owner-occupied rentals, was in the audience but did not speak at yesterday’s meeting.

“After a lengthy discussion about compromise options with short term rentals, the mayor swiped it all away in an instant when he directed the attorney to draw up a draft of a law outlawing all short term rentals except owner-occupied,” said Roberts in an email to SoutholdLOCAL. “The mayor doesn’t care to compromise, as we have seen from him on every issue these past six months. It is his way or the highway.”

Roberts held his own informal meeting at the Loft in August, inviting community members to speak about short term rentals.

The takeaway of the meeting, Roberts said, is that those in attendance agreed they would be willing to pay higher fees with an eye toward hiring additional code enforcement as well as legal backup. Next, he said, the group agreed the current rental law could be tweaked and revised to include short-term rentals.

Hubbard said the code committee has been working for over a year on the short-term rental issue, since even before he was elected mayer. He was not willing “to throw out a year’s worth of work,” Hubbard said. Roberts, the mayor said, “has his own feelings. He’s trying to undermine me in all he does.”