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Greenport Village residents voice concerns over short-term housing

Andrea Kavajian of Greenport was born and raised on the North Fork. She dreamed of one day buying a house of her own in her hometown. She earned a college degree and a good-paying job followed.

Still, that dream of owning a North Fork home seems so elusive.

“I can barely afford to rent anything out here,” Ms. Kavajian said at a public hearing last Thursday on Greenport Village rentals.

The hearing centered on a proposed code revision that would require permits and inspections for all residential rentals in the village.

Scott Ferrari, another speaker, lamented that without long-term rentals for locals, there may not be any more locals.

“We’re going to have ‘trade parades,’ just like they do on the South Fork,” he said.

The Village trustees approved a residential rental permit requirement four years ago, but some officials say the law hasn’t been enforced and doesn’t specifically address short-term rentals, which many speakers at last Thursday’s hearing felt is depleting the rental housing stock in the village.

The new proposal doesn’t specifically mention short-term rentals, but Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said it requires all residential rental properties to obtain a permit. The intent of the proposed law is to prevent unsafe conditions arising from rental housing that’s not in compliance with building and safety codes.

Commercial uses like hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts would be exempt because those requirements are already in place for such operations.

An exemption in the current law for “seasonal rental or legal transient or temporary rentals” also would be eliminated under the proposed law.

Short-term rentals have become widespread through online websites like Airbnb, which allow owners to rent a house or part of a house for a short amount of time.

The towns of Southold and Riverhead have adopted laws in recent years prohibiting rentals of less than a specified number of days — 14 in Southold and 30 in Riverhead.

Over the past few years, Greenport has held several public hearings and had numerous board discussions about adopting an equivalent law, but officials have yet to agree on specifics.

A number of speakers at last Thursday’s hearing said such a law is needed in the village.

Former village Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Doug Moore said the village needs to “immediately consider the impact of short-term rentals on the village.”

Not doing so, he said, could “open the floodgates.”

Resident Arthur Tasker said it’s “clear that many properties are being bought in order to be converted to short-term housing.”

Some speakers said they rely on the income from short-term rentals.

Caroline Waloski said she rents part of her two-family house to short-term renters. “I’m concerned if I lost that as income, how I would be able to stay here,” she said. She said people aren’t taking long vacations nowadays and only want short stays.

Mindy Ryan of Greenport also rents the downstairs of her legal two-family house to short-term renters while she and her husband live upstairs.

She feels rentals should be no less than 29 days, but also feels those houses should be owner-occupied, and that they should be referred to not as short-term rentals but as “guest houses.”

“We don’t want someone living downstairs year-round,” she said. “We deal with our guests so we can afford to keep our house and we deal with them on weekends and most of the summer.”

Without short-term rentals, she said, she would move.

“We would rent the upstairs and the downstairs apartments separately, and they would not be affordable because they are too big,” she said.

When Mr. Tasker asked what the village is doing about affordable housing, Mr. Hubbard said there is no vacant land available for such projects.

“So you’re just throwing up your hands?” Mr. Tasker asked.

Trustee Julia Robins said the village should look to partner with Southold Town on affordable housing. Trustee Doug Roberts agreed and suggested forming a joint affordable housing tax district using Greenport’s “more density-friendly” zoning to develop Southold’s land near the village.

He initially wanted the board to approve a resolution sending a letter to Southold Town officials asking for a meeting to discuss affordable housing issues.

However, when other trustees asked what the letter would specifically ask for, Mr. Roberts withdrew his request for a resolution and instead said he would bring it up for discussion at a work session.

The Village Board left the public hearing on the rental law open for further discussion at future board meetings.

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