Kendall residents speak in favor and against proposals to regulate short-term rentals

Photos by Tom Rivers: Mark Grimes of Norway Heights in Kendall said there are several “defects” in the town’s proposed laws for regulating short-term rentals. Grimes is one of about 20 short-term rental owners who retained a lawyer, Steven Barshov, from the New York City firm of Sive, Paget & Riesel to challenge the regulations. Grimes said he hopes litigation can be avoided between the town and the short-term rental owners.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2023 at 9:51 am

KENDALL – The Town Board heard from residents and property owners who are in favor or against proposed regulations for short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs and Vrbo.

The board held a public hearing Tuesday evening, with at least 125 people attending the nearly 2-hour meeting in the junior-senior high school auditorium.

Some of the speakers would like to see the town work with short-term rental owners without passing new regulations. The town can regulate the sites through existing codes for property maintenance, noise and garbage pickup, some of the speakers said.

The town is proposing one law that would not allow any new short-term rentals in the waterfront districts north of the Lake Ontario State Parkway. The existing rentals would be grandfathered and allowed to continue. Kendall officials said there are eight to 10 of those rentals in that area.

Town-wide Kendall is proposing an annual $1,000 annual licensing fee with the town for the rentals, and wants to require those property owners to have $3 million liability insurance.

Town of Kendall officials welcome about 125 people to a public hearing on Tuesday night at the school auditorium. Pictured from left include Planning Board Chairman Bruce Newell, Town Councilwoman Barb Flow, Town Councilwoman Margaret Lynn Szozda, Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata, attorney Henry Zomerfeld, and Councilman Paul Jennings.

Paul Nau, owner of Lake Runner Charters for the past 37 years, keeps his boat at Bald Eagle Marina and has customers come for charters for 77 days. About 90 percent of his customers are from out of state and they stay in STRs. Nearly all of them are middle age or older. They are just looking to relax, enjoy a getaway by the lake. They patronize local restaurants.

If the short-term rentals close due to higher operating costs, Nau said he will have to relocate to Niagara County.

“Kendall is a beautiful area,” he said. “Bald Eagle is one of the best marinas on the lake.”

The manager of Lures Restaurant at the marina also said the STR regulation would hurt Lures with rents out lodging, making that business even more challenging as it comes off Covid restrictions and staffing shortages.

Jason Manchester of Lomond Shores is president of a homeowners association where residents live among 6 short-term rentals. He said the residents there few complaints about the STRs. Occasionally someone rides a golf cart on the road or is speeding, or a dog gets loose. The issues are resolved among the neighbors, without bringing in the town or law enforcement, Manchester said.

“Be neighborly,” he said. “Talk to your people. We have no issues.”

Josh Brusso of Kenmore Road said the $1,000 fee looked like a “money grab” from the town. He said some of the complaints about transients in the STRs are common among year-round residents, too – speeding, setting off fireworks, trespassing.

He is concerned the regulations would drive up costs for STRs.

“Let’s try to keep it affordable so it isn’t just for elites,” he said.

Lydia Richardson, a deputy town clerk, urged the Town Board to hold off on adopting regulations to give more time for documents about complaints and other issues to be filed with the town. Right now there are petitions submitted for and against the regulations. Richardson said some have accused Town Board members of having a personal stake in the issue because they live near short-term rentals. She wants the town to be protected in case there is a legal challenge about a conflict of interest.

Some of the residents spoke in favor of the law, saying having STRs as neighbors drives up their property insurance costs. They said some of the STRs are loud, especially at night when the homeowners want peace and quiet after working in the city.

“I want a quiet street and not be surrounded by STRs,” one resident said. “I’m worried the whole street will become STRs.”

Several residents said they didn’t think the STRs were allowed on the private one-lane roads. The town code doesn’t allow businesses on those roads, where the residents pool resources to have the roads plowed and maintained. Some of the residents on those roads said having STRs there exposes everyone on the road to liability if a transient resident was hurt in an accident. They could sue the residents about the road’s maintenance, one resident said.

About 20 of the rental owners have joined together to hire an attorney to oppose the town’s proposed regulations. The hearing limited speakers to 3 minutes. So about a dozen property owners took turns reading a response prepared by attorney Steven Barshov of Sive, Paget & Riesel in New York City.

Some of the Town Board members live close to STRs. Those board members should state their conflict of interest and recuse themselves from the town discussion and any voting on the issue, Barshov said.

He said there are several “defects” with the regulations, including conflict with the Kendall Comprehensive Plan and the Kendall, Yates & Carlton Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.

The cottages and second homes in Kendall have been rented out long before “the computer-based marketing platforms of VRBO and Airbnb.” Owners used to use newspapers and more traditional forms of advertising to market the sites, he said.

“Thus, the entire basis of the Proposed Local Laws – that ‘short term rentals’ is something new or novel in Kendall – is utterly false,” Barshov wrote as part of an 8-page letter to the Town Board.

He also said it was “irrational” to single out airbnbs, VRBOs and other short-term rentals and to allow bed and breakfasts because the latter are owner-occupied. Kendall is proposing the short-term rentals have a responsible caretaker on-call if the owner doesn’t live in Kendall. Barshov said that is a reasonable requirement and not objectionable.

Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata presides over a public hearing where speakers were limited to 3 limits. The hearing was delayed about 10 minutes because of a line of people waiting to sign in and get into the school auditorium. About 125 people attended the hearing that lasted about 1 hour, 40 minutes.

The town’s property maintenance codes already address issues with poorly maintained structures and don’t require the regulations for STRs, Barshov said.

The $1,000 annual licensing fee is “absurd,” he said. That fee and the $3 million liability insurance are intended to make people close their STRs or to not consider starting those as businesses, he said.

Barshov questioned other provisions of the regulations, including a limit of two people per sleeping room, sprinkler systems above the second floor of buildings used as STRs, and a ban on parking recreational vehicles, campers, trailers or motor vehicles larger than a 1-ton pickup truck.

“The character of a neighborhood is not destroyed by occupants of short-term rental properties doing exactly what residential property can do,” Barshov wrote. “Again, the requirement is imposed to STRs less attractive to users.”

Barshov also said the Town Board has misstated the issues with STRs, portraying an “STR war zone” that doesn’t exist. There are only a few isolated incidents and none are “malicious,” he said.

“There are no reports of rampant misbehavior or anything like it at STR properties,” he wrote.

The attorney noted that the Orleans County Planning Board was overwhelming in recommending against the regulations last month. He wants more time to get the comments from the board members at that Dec. 22 meeting so they can be included in Kendall’s official record. He urged the town to not rush through the process and hold open the public hearing.

Cammarata, the town supervisor, said comments will be accepted until the close of the business day on Friday. Those comments can be dropped off or submitted to the town clerk.