Town of Webb officials look to regulate; Old Forge locals worry about community becoming a ‘party town’
By Jamie Organski
Similar to other Adirondack tourist towns, Old Forge and the town of Webb have experienced an alarming increase in short-term rental (STR) properties over the past several years.
Residents have been voicing concerns that the rise in STRs is transforming the character of their community. Among the concerns: Lack of year-round housing combined with the noise and nuisance of “party houses” will force locals to relocate to nearby communities. Old Forge will be loaded with tourists with few locals to work in local businesses, and few children to attend school, in a district that already suffers from decreased enrollment.
Fourth Lake homeowner Martha DeMana said when she purchased her home the house next door was not a rental property, but now that has changed. She cited disturbances such as loud frat parties, upwards of 100 people at the house at one time, people firing guns off the deck, and renters parking in her driveway.
“Now we have 10 to 30 to 100 people next door on any given weekend…I didn’t buy property next to commercial property,” she said at a recent public hearing on the issue. “This is about the landlords who just don’t know what goes on (in these rental houses). It is wrong for you to assume that everything is perfect at your properties just because no one calls to complain. I am expecting the town to uphold my rights as a homeowner.”
The hearings also drew landlords, some of whom spoke to buying dilapidated homes, hiring local contractors to update their properties, and transitioning them into profitable businesses. Many people said they chose to rent out their homes to offset home-ownership costs, and generate funds to be able to relocate to the Old Forge area when it comes time to retire.
Although some local residents and rental property owners have maintained a respectful coexistence, it became evident during two recent Webb public hearings that the topic of STR regulation has caused a feud amongst the two opposing sides, with both parties coming to a standoff regarding their rights as homeowners and landlords.
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Too little too late?
The conversation began at a town level in January of 2019 when the Webb Town Board members began to worry about the impact the rise in STRs was having on its tourist communities.
Although there is currently no official tally in the Town of Webb of the number of short-term rental properties, Webb Code Enforcement Officer Andy Getty said his best estimate is more than 500.
The Webb Town Board is in the process of crafting a local law to regulate STRs, an action that may be too little too late, according to Kathryn Ruscitto, chair of View arts center’s board of directors.
“I appreciate that every issue always has two sides. Landlords have the right to rent their properties, but neighbors who want tranquility and a nice place to raise their families also have that right,” Ruscitto said.
“The key is finding a balance. Right now we have a win-lose, and finding a win-win takes leadership. I watched another community not act and went from about 50 percent rentals to almost all rentals, now called the ‘party town.’ Schools lost enrollment because young families wouldn’t live there, and retirees went elsewhere,” she said.
“The (Webb) town board is years behind in setting some rules, and it may be too late to pull back from the loss of housing to rentals.”
“Landlords have the right to rent their properties, but neighbors who want tranquility and a nice place to raise their families also have that right.”— Kathryn Ruscitto, chair of View arts center’s board of directors
An attempt to regulate
Town of Webb Supervisor Dave Berkstresser said the town acknowledges the economic benefits of STRs to defray the costs of owning a home. At the same time, the town must also address the potential adverse impacts STRs can cause to the character of the neighborhood, environment, and general welfare of the community.
According to Berkstresser, the purpose of the proposed law is to ensure:
- minimum standards for life and fire safety,
- on-site wastewater treatment systems meet minimum state standards,
- the number of occupants does not exceed state guidelines,
- residential neighborhoods or waterfronts are not inadvertently turned into tourist areas thereby creating a de facto rezoning contrary to the Comprehensive Plan
An annual permit, issued by the Webb Code Enforcement Officer (CEO), would be required for any dwelling rented, leased, or occupied for any period of time less than six consecutive months. Prior to the issuance of a permit/renewal, the CEO may inspect rental units to verify compliance with all local laws, fire codes, sufficient parking areas, proper sanitary disposal and more.
More about housing
Pictured here: Rebecca Ciraulo in front of the home she purchased. Photo by Mike Lynch
Town of Webb Councilwoman Barb Green said that the proposed rental law document has been edited considerably and this week it will be in the hands of the town board and the town attorney for their review before being presented to the public. From there, another public hearing will be held.
So far, Old Forge resident Judy Kaminski supports the board’s efforts. She said part of the issue is people are renting out their homes as a business and yet the activity is not being regulated as such.
“Any other business that moves into a residential area is required to abide by rules, and inspections,” she said. “This law is a minimum start to help address the rise in STRs (and its) lack of regulation.”