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Town delays vote following hearing on short-term rental law

Mary Ann Fleischman

The Southold Town Board took no action following a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss a proposed short-term rental law that looks to set 14 nights as the minimum stay.

It was standing room only at Town Hall during the public hearing to discuss the controversial plan as residents took turns commenting on the proposed legislation during the nearly four-hour meeting.

The majority of speakers were homeowners that rent their homes on a short-term basis, many of whom voiced opposition to the proposed law. [Scroll down to read the legislation]

Cutchogue resident Abigail Field, an attorney who represents about two dozen residents whose properties offer short-term rentals, criticized the town for proposing a new law when she believes it doesn’t enforce current codes such as noise ordinances. She also described the proposal as “political theater.”

Mr. Russell said he believes both sides on the issue have been “mischaracterizing what the other side is saying.”

“I’ve met the owners of most of these short-term rentals and they are people that care about the community — they’re not rapscallions looking just for money out of the local economy,” he said. “At the same time, the people that have concerns about the short-term rentals, they’re not small-minded towns people with pitch forks and lanterns.”

After the meeting, he said the Town Board plans to review comments made Tuesday, as well as over 80 emails received from both sides.

During the hearing, many homeowners said they don’t make a lot of money off of short-term rentals and do so in order save for their retirement.

Cutchogue resident and local social worker Mary Ann Fleischman said she hosts AirBnB short-term rentals in order to continue living in her hometown.

“I resent being told, ‘If you can’t afford it then move,’” she said. “I rely on AirBnB. I’ve been booked every single weekend since June. I do this because I need the money.”

Joanna Lane, a real estate agent from Cutchogue, asked the Town Board to provide data showing how tourism dollars will be affected if the law is passed. She argued that if renters are required to stay for longer periods of time, then they’ll tend to stay inside and not spend as much money during their stay.

“If they’re only here for four days, then they’re out everyday — even in the rain,” she said. “If we’re going to limit tourism, how will the businesses survive?”

Hosts of short-term rentals also said they interview guests and described them as “respectful to neighbors” and “outstanding lovers of the North Fork.”

Brooklyn resident Yehudit Moch, a social worker who rents her other residence in Southold, said she believes 14 days is unreasonable and asked the Town Board to pass a law that has “rational limits” and is “enforceable and fair.”

Most short-term rental properties allow pets unlike many bed-and-breakfasts and hotels, she added.

“There are people, most are families, who get to have a holiday here with their dogs that they wouldn’t be able to have on the North Fork,” Ms. Moch said.

Former town Councilman Bill Edwards, a Mattituck resident that has had a real estate license since 2007, said he believes the maximum term should be no more than seven days since a two-week minimum would “create a financial hardship” on homeowners and urged the board to “proceed with caution with restricting homeowner rights.”

Other homeowners explained how they’ve had bad experiences with either long-term agreements with renters or have had trouble finding someone to rent their property for a month-long stay in the summer.

In addition, several homeowners asked the Town Board to create a permit process for short-term rentals instead of restricting the amounts of days they could stay. Some also asked the town to enforce current laws to address specific violations such as parking and noise.

A few residents spoke in support of the short-term rental law and even asked the Town Board to extend the term to a 30-day minimum, as well as limit of the number of people allowed in a house.

Ed Conklin of Southold showed pictures of nine cars parked at what he claims was a short-term rental property near his house and said the issue has impacted his quality of life.

“Let’s keep Southold the town we want to live, not leave,” he said.

Scott Vayer of Southold said he believes “two weeks isn’t a lot to ask for.”

“It still allows 26 leases,” he told the Town Board. “I think you’re well on your way to get a good statue passed and we can always re-evaluate it.”

East Marion resident and Oysterponds school board member Linda Goldsmith said although she doesn’t have an opinion about short-term rentals, she believes the town should make a decision about the direction it wants to take with promoting tourism.

“We’ve almost reached our saturation point,” she said, adding she believes the town needs to address its infrastructure including sidewalks, traffic safety, beach cleanup and a lack of public transportation prior to passing a rental code.

The proposed law applies only to residential homes being rented out— most of which are listed on home-sharing websites such as Airbnb and Home Away — and not to accessory apartments, hotels or beds-and-breakfasts. Those uses have their own regulations under the town code.

For months, the Town Board has been debating how to handle short-term rentals, a hot-button issue in cities across the country.

The Town Board is expected to vote on the proposed law in two weeks, Mr. Russell said.

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Photo: Cutchogue resident Mary Ann Fleischman speaks in support of short-term rentals at Tuesday’s meeting.

Southold Town's proposed short-term rental law