CHATHAM—The Town Board voted 3 to 2 against approving regulations on short-term rentals at the board meeting Thursday, September 17.
Also at the meeting, the board praised retiring Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert. Town Supervisor Donal Collins said the residents are “forever in your debt” for Mr. Rickert’s service.
Mr. Rickert, who is retiring at the end of the month after 34 years with the town, 21 years of those years as highway superintendent, was at the online meeting held on the Google Meet platform. He praised his highway crew and said that during his tenure it was great to “meet everybody” in this town. In his letter to the board announcing his retirement, Mr. Rickert thanked the board as well as Town Hall and Highway Department personnel. “I would also like to thank the kind residents of the town, who have made my job such a pleasure,” he wrote.
He said at the meeting that it’s been amazing to see how much the town has grown over the years. He pointed out that this had been a “heck of year” and that some projects had been put off due to the pandemic.
After an executive session the board appointed Jeffrey Antalek as the new superintendent. The position of highway superintendent is an elected office for a four-year term. The position will be on the ballot again in 2021.
As for the vote on the proposed local law on short-term rental (STR) regulations, Councilman Vance Pitkin cast a No vote and read a statement saying he believes in protecting residents’ property rights. He said that the majority of the town—nearly 90% in his calculation—don’t appear to have an opinion about regulations. He said overwhelmingly residents voted to protect property rights in the last election. “I promised these voters I would do everything I could to protect their rights and that is why I’m voting no on this proposed law,” said Mr. Pitkin during the vote.
Supervisor Collins and Councilwoman Abi Mesick both voted for the regulations. Town board members John Wapner and Kevin Weldon voted against the proposal. Mr. Wapner said he was voting against the proposed law for several reasons and that he felt it was telling the public they were not being listened to by the board. He called the proposed law “poorly crafted.”
Mr. Weldon pointed out that last year, when the previous board proposed an updated zoning law that included short-term rental regulations, their proposal was criticized for not waiting until the town’s Comprehensive Plan was updated.
Ms. Mesick, who co-chairs the town’s Comprehensive Plan Update Review Committee, said earlier in the meeting that the committee recently met after stopping due to the pandemic. She also said the committee is looking for a new member due the resignation of one member.
During the discussion on the proposed regulations, Ms. Mesick said that last year the community was asking for “more common sense, simple laws.” She said a local law regulating a use in the town is totally reasonable.
Supervisor Collins said he supported the proposed law because it regulated a rental use that he felt wasn’t any “more intense” than a long-term rental or a family living in a house full-time.
The town’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2009 and since then two different town committees have worked on updating the town’s zoning laws to be in line with the plan. In January, the board appointed the Update Review Committee to review the Comprehensive Plan.
The Town Board also announced plans at a January meeting to deal with some zoning issues before the Comprehensive Plan was revised, including STR regulations. The board held workshop meetings and proposed drafts of the regulations. The board held a public hearing on this latest version of the STR regulations earlier this month, where several residents asked about having a residency requirement included in the law.
Also at the meeting:
• The board reviewed the 2020 budget with the town Planning and Finance Committee Chair David Levow. Mr. Levow went through the budget to point out where the town had saved during the last few months, mostly in the grounds maintenance and recreation budget lines. During the discussion, Mr. Levow said the savings the town made were in budget lines that the town didn’t fund or funded at a reduced rate. He explained that the town reduced its expenses and if revenues come in as budgeted, there could be a net savings of $75,000. But there is also a decrease in revenues from fines and forfeitures, which Mr. Levow showed were down about 50% from where the town was last year. Another big loss for the budget is in sales tax. But the town is forecasting an increase in mortgage tax. Mr. Levow pointed out that some of the figures in revenues are “barely educated guesses.”
Compared to what he is hearing from other municipalities and school districts, “relatively speaking, we are in tip top shape,” Mr. Levow said of the budget.
• Recreation Director Mike West presented the board with a plan for hosting the Morris Memorial’s after school and soccer programs for local children at Crellin Park for October and November. Normally the programs would be held at the Morris Memorial building on Park Row in the Village of Chatham, but the plan would be to move them outside to the park. Mr. West also said the groups would be small and they would follow safety guidelines of social distancing and masks. “I’m excited about these programs,” said Councilwoman Mesick. The board approved the Morris activities at the park
• The board also approved opening the playground at Crellin Park. Councilwoman Mesick said parents had reached out to her about opening that section, saying she felt it was time to open it. The board opened the soccer fields to small group practices.
The next Town Board meeting is October 15 at 6:30 p.m. There is information on who to attend the meeting at the town’s website at www.chathamnewyork.us