Town Hall Notes: Town cracks down on short-term rentals; board seats seven on BESS task force

As the summer vacation season approaches, Southold Town hopes to crack down on short-term rentals in violation of town code.

During their work session Tuesday morning, the Southold Town Board discussed changes to the town code and strategies to more strictly enforce violations with regards to short-term rentals.

Under the current code, homeowners looking to rent out their properties must do so for a minimum of 14 days at a time. But in reality, this edict was seldom followed or enforced.

“What we were seeing was a lot of Airbnb owners were ignoring the rules,” Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. “They were taking people and renting for two, three days, every weekend. There was a lot of turnover. There were many that were complying with the rules, but so many more that weren’t.”

The proposed changes to the code includes increasing the minimum number of days renters must rent a property from 14 days to 30, requiring that all rental listings in digital and print mediums include the homeowner’s rental permit number, and more stringent penalties for violating the code.

“I want to increase fines … penalties for first offense for violation of the code would be anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000,” Mr. Russell said. “Second offense would result in the complete revocation of a rental permit for three years.”

While these updates are still underway, Mr. Russell said the town has recently boosted efforts to enforce the current code. Six homeowners appeared in the town’s justice court last week to respond to 11 different tickets regarding short-term rentals in violation of the code.

The town’s struggle to enforce rental violations coupled with the popularity and ease of rental sites such as Airbnb has exacerbated another challenge the town is confronting: insufficient housing stock. More units sequestered for short-term rentals means fewer long-term rental opportunities for Southold’s residents and workers.

“Potentially maybe we can get a few of these rentals back into the rental market,” councilwoman Sarah Nappa said. “I do hope that these new measures that we’re discussing will discourage people from from doing these rentals illegally and maybe give them a second look at saying ‘maybe instead of all this hassle, I should put my house up for a year-round rental instead.’ So, hopefully, we’ll get a few of those back.”

Mr. Russell said draft legislation regarding the changes to the code should be ready for the board’s next meeting scheduled for Wednesday, July 5. With the board’s approval, a public hearing may then be set to discuss to code changes.

Seven residents appointed to BESS task force

Tuesday afternoon, the Town Board announced the slate Southold residents selected for seats on the new Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) task force.

Umberto Fasolino, James Kennedy, Johnathan Kongelotos, Michael Macco, Conrad Owen, Michael Sande and Thomas Sarakatsannis were chosen as the first seven members of the nine-person BESS committee. The independent body has not yet scheduled meetings, but Mr. Russell said “I would hope or anticipate them needing to meet probably, once every two weeks, at least in the beginning, to get to get up and running. There’s a lot of catching up to do.”

The new committee will be responsible for learning about BESS technology and then helping the town implement it into it’s code master plan. Mr. Russell said he hopes the group will hear from people on either side of the debate over BESS facilities, including representatives from the industry and locals who oppose the technology, as well as various departments within the town.

The task force’s formation arrived two months after the board unanimously passed a moratorium on proposals for BESS facilities, including a controversial proposal along Oregon Road in Cut­ch­ogue, where Key Capture Energy of Albany hopes to build a 60-megawatt BESS facility on 27 acres. The project has drawn public backlash for its location and potential environmental and safety concerns, including local fire departments’ ability to respond to emergencies at the facility.

“I’m very, very committed to making sure that our fire departments will be part of the discussion, maybe even have a couple of meetings with them directly [at fire houses] to get their perspective,” Mr. Russell said. “This is a group that’s going to get all sides.”