The Partial Observer: Village Residents Oppose Short-term Rental Plans for 40 Lake Street with Good Reason

The Partial Observer by William Waller

Village Residents Oppose
Short-term Rental Plans for
40 Lake Street with Good Reason

The Village of Cooperstown has changed and is still changing. Fifty years ago, there was one baseball souvenir store and house prices were reasonable. Houses were homes to families; kids walked to school and played in the parks.

Things change and that change brought more and more visitors, capitalizing on the nearby baseball camps, the rise of tourism in the entire region, and the focus on domestic family travel. Families came to Cooperstown to watch their sons, grandsons or nephews play in week-long baseball tournaments near the “Home of Baseball.”

With this influx came a change to regional housing. Short-term rentals for the time that these camps were open became more and more popular. An owner could rent for the summer and make as much, if not more, than a year-long rental. Summer rentals meant less strain on the homes during with winter, less maintenance and the owners could travel away during the off seasons.

It became such a frenzy that houses were actually built for the express purpose of summer rental and shutdown over the winter, employing insulation, heating, and accommodations geared to this summer season. Building and development of full-time rental properties went by the wayside.

As a result, people started to look at short-term rentals as a profitable business. Cottage complexes were built and large, older homes were renovated to meet this demand.

Enter the Village of Cooperstown, the charming, quaint, upstate New York village that for years was home to traditional tourist accommodations, bed and breakfasts, inns, and hotels. These were either in commercial areas or in neighborhoods where the owners had been in residence for many years and were an integral part of the community. As homeowners chose to rent out a few rooms after their children went off, they monitored the renters so as to not disturb their immediate neighbors; after all, they lived here, too.

But as the tourist frenzy spread, the Village Board of Trustees took actions to minimize the impact to residential neighborhoods. Their initial zoning laws were found faulty in a lawsuit that allowed unoccupied tourist rentals. These “excepted” houses soon became nuisances to their neighborhoods, giving rise to many complaints about noise, lights, garbage and parties disturbing their immediate neighbors. In typical upstate fashion, most of these complaints were verbalized to various village officials, but rarely made formal lest the neighbor be thought of as prickly. The peak led to 80 B and B’s, etc., owner occupied tourist homes. Policing these became a continuous problem, with the zoning enforcement officer struggling to develop a system to oversee them.

The ZEO finally went around and forced owners to conform to the law or stop renting. The “excepted” homes disappeared after ownership changes.

With this experience, many residents were resistant to new short term tourist rentals, occupied or not. Seeing the impact of poorly controlled operations deep in residential neighborhoods, village opposition grew and now there are only about 20 STR’s with no legal unoccupied rentals.

This opposition has most recently been seen in the special permit application for 40 Lake Street, a four bedroom, one internal apartment home that recently changed hands. This STR permit wanted four rental rooms, a new parking lot, lighting, etc. The negative impact to the mostly quiet residential neighborhood along the lake was clearly seen by the neighbors and others in the village. Opposition arose.

Forty-five opponents attended the ZBA Public Hearing. Twenty-five opposition letters, a record for the ZBA, were received.

This permit application was complicated by the proposed conversion of this residence into a boarding house, with owners—who are not village residents and only planning to be in residence when rentals occurred—clearly operating this former residence as a business.

In addition, opposition rose against the creation of a new parking lot impacting nearby Willow Creek, which flows directly into Otsego Lake, the source of village water and the headwaters of the Susquehanna River.

The ZBA agreed that the Village Zoning Law states that such short-term rentals should be “incidental” to the use of the home as a residence and denied the permit.

Opposition to 40 Lake continues. In the past, STR permits for one or two rooms have been issued and then violated as more rooms than allowed were rented. Enforcement of this violation was difficult because of privacy, trespassing and other regulations prohibiting “spying” on the owners.

William Waller is a resident of Beaver Street, Cooperstown.

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