LAKE PLACID — The North Elba Town Council is considering putting a moratorium on issuing any new vacation rental permits for the next six months while the council considers changes to its current rental regulations.
A lawsuit brought against the town and village in 2020 by a group of vacation rental owners, which sought to void the municipalities’ short-term rental law, was dismissed earlier this year when the plaintiffs agreed to drop the case without the ability to raise it in the future. While the lawsuit worked its way through the legal process, the town and village couldn’t make any major changes to their short-term rental regulations. Now that the lawsuit has lifted, the municipalities are considering their next steps in regulating vacation rentals.
The town council wants to put a moratorium on STRs so they have the opportunity to review and update the existing vacation rental regulations and parts of the joint land use code related to where the rentals should be and how they should operate, according to the proposed law.
Vacation rental regulations have been a hotly-contested issue in this area for years as more homes in residential neighborhoods were converted to vacation rentals and the local housing crisis worsened. A housing needs assessment study released in 2020 confirmed that North Elba and Lake Placid are indeed facing a “workforce housing crisis,” and pointed to vacation rentals not as the cause of it but as an exacerbating factor. Some local vacation rental owners have said they need to rent their properties to be able to afford to continue living here and keep their homes.
As of Jan. 28, Code Enforcement Officer Mike Orticelle said the building and planning department had issued around 533 permits for STRs in the town and village — that figure included around 20 non-compliant STRs that are operating without a valid permit.
The town council has scheduled a public hearing on the vacation rental moratorium at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23. People can join the meeting online at https://www.gotomeet.me/TownofNorthElba/north-elba-str-moratorium or by calling 312-757-3121.
The North Elba Town Council is also considering other changes to its land use code related to cannabis businesses, solar panels and septic systems, but public hearings have not yet been scheduled on those changes.
Town Councilor Emily Kilburn Politi said that the town’s proposed changes to the short-term rental law are “70 to 80% there,” but that there’s some more finalizing to do. She said the moratorium would give the town some time to “button up” the short-term rental regulations and get public input on the issue.
Town Supervisor Derek Doty said on Sunday that the council wants to use those six months to work with the village on STR regulations before proposing changes. He said the village is concerned with protecting its neighborhoods from STR overwhelm, and the council wants to work with the village board to support that effort.
The moratorium wouldn’t affect any vacation rentals with existing permits or renewals for any of those permits, but it would put a hold on vacation rental permits that are currently pending or that have lapsed.
The proposed law does allow for variances, saying that people can appeal to the town clerk for an exception to the moratorium if they believe it “would impose practical difficulties or extraordinary hardships” on them. If someone applied for a variance, the town council would have to hold a public hearing on it.
The text of the proposed moratorium also says that the town council has the right to extend or terminate the moratorium beyond or before the six-month period if needed.
Petitions were filed with the town last Monday, Jan. 31, to bring the town’s cannabis laws to a vote this November. The town council voted this past December to opt out of having cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption licensing in North Elba.
The council has said it wanted time to work on its zoning laws related to cannabis businesses before opting in, and councilors expect to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes sometime this month.
The proposed zoning changes are an extension of cannabis business zoning set by the state in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which states that cannabis businesses can’t operate within 500 feet of a school or within 200 feet of a place of worship.
The town’s proposed changes would additionally prohibit a cannabis business — which includes dispensaries, on-site consumption lounges and smoke shops — from operating within 200 feet of a daycare, childcare facility, youth center, community center, recreational facility, playground and other places where children gather.
The council also wants to limit the businesses to commercial areas in the town, including the village center, the gateway corridor district and the Old Military Road corridor. The council also wants to regulate signage at cannabis businesses — the council is proposing that no signage, window or outdoor displays can show a marijuana product or its likeness.
Septic, solar and more
The council is also proposing administrative edits to the town-village joint land use code, along with some additions regulating the use of solar panels. The council expects to hold one public hearing for these changes sometime this month.
The town council is anticipating a rise in solar panel installations as more people switch to green energy, and councilors want to account for that in the land use code. While the state regulates panels that generate 25 megawatts or larger, according to Orticelle, the building department would handle anything smaller. Orticelle said that the main concern with solar panels is keeping large solar farms out of downtown and residential areas and encouraging them on larger tracts of land.
The town council is still finalizing the language of land use code changes for solar panels.
Kilburn Politi said that the primary administrative changes to the land use code are related to septic systems in shoreland overlay districts. Those changes — mainly allowing wastewater systems to be installed less than 300 feet from a shoreline if the 300-foot distance isn’t possible — among others, were proposed by a subcommittee of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission last summer.
Doty said the town is voting on the changes now instead of last summer because the council was waiting on the Community Development Commission to add more amendments to its proposal. He said the council wanted to hold one public hearing for all the changes at once.
The new code would require all new wastewater disposal systems in shoreland districts to be approved by the Lake Placid-North Elba Review Board and new systems to be designed by a licensed professional engineer. Under the new amendment, the review board could approve a setback of less than 300 feet if the engineer reports determine that the placement wouldn’t have an adverse effect on water quality.
Other major administrative changes to the land use code would:
¯Allow docks and boathouses to extend 35 feet into the water, a bump up from the previous allowance of 32 feet. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is recommending boathouses be built starting three feet from the shore, according to Community Development Commission Chairman Dean Dietrich.
¯Create uniform construction hours between the village and the town. Construction would be allowed between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
¯Allow already non-conforming structures to build additions, as long as those additions still meet required setbacks.
¯Impose a new permit expiration rule that will require people to apply for a permit renewal if their construction project isn’t completed in three years.
¯Allow income-based housing developments in commercial areas — defined as developments where at least 75% of the units are dedicated to income-based housing, or housing affordable to someone making 80% of the area median income — to be built taller, up to 40 feet. That would allow developments to be one level higher than what’s generally allowed now in those areas.
¯Change the formula for mandatory affordable housing units in new housing developments. Currently, for every 10 new housing units built, a developer has to either include a certain number of income-based units or contribute money to a housing fund. How many units, or how much money, is calculated based on a formula that takes into account the one-year average median price of housing sold and median area income. The committee wanted to change that formula to take into account the three-year average median price of housing sold, rather than one year average, according to Dietrich.
¯Require that floating docks be encapsulated by the end of 2023 to cut down on debris in lakes.
¯Prohibit the planting of invasive species.
The committee’s full presentation from last summer is available at www.futurelakeplacid.com/subcommittees/land-use-code-review.