GREAT VALLEY — After three months of public discussion, and more than two years in the works, Great Valley still has no law on the books regulating short-term rentals in the town.
A 2-2 tie vote by the town board Monday left some questioning what to do next, especially after all seemed well in October when a revised local law was agreed upon and sent to Cattaraugus County for the planning board to review.
Town supervisor Dan Brown and board member Sandra Goode voted to approve the law while board members Jerry Musall and Lori Finch voted against it. Member Becky Kruszynski was absent.
“You can approve this as written, deny it as written, table it or, during the discussion, modify it for the next meeting,” explained Peter Sorgi, town attorney. “But if you do nothing, just so we’re clear, it’s illegal right now.”
Musall said he felt the entire law was too restrictive, such as limiting rentals to 200 days and requiring emergency contacts to be within 60 minutes of a property, as well as suggesting none of the regulations will be enforced if there were any problems.
“I’ve heard some of you people who own these properties say, ‘How can I be held responsible for my tenants?’ I really don’t give a damn. It’s your property,” Musall continued. “I apologize to the people who are being inconvenienced about this and bothered because of unruly neighbors, but I think it’s far too restrictive.”
Sorgi said Musall was right that there’s no way the town could monitor every property all the time, but if there were one or two properties with continuous problems, having a law with regulations in place is the only way to legally deal with the owner.
Although he said he’d like to see some type of law in the town allowing short-term rentals — such as through Airbnb — Musall said he also wants property owners to police themselves, or have a town constable funded by short-term rental owners rather than going through the county sheriff’s office.
“I don’t know if that’s legal, but I don’t think I, as a taxpayer, should have to pay for anything like this,” he added. “I think it’s way over the top, quite honestly.”
Sorgi said the application fees and other fines for not adhering to the regulations are how the town would pay for the enforcement by the code enforcement officer or a constable.
Goode suggested the town pass a basic law simply allowing short-term rentals and requiring an application so the town knows how many rentals there are just so it is legal.
Finch said she wasn’t in favor of having the rental days limited to 200. Musall and Goode agreed, saying there should be no limit as to how many days a business can operate.
Sorgi explained the reason a number of days should be listed is there is already a president for owners who would be grandfathered in in case the town wanted to change it later.
“You have a house in a neighborhood and they’re renting it out. It’s not a Holiday Inn, it’s somebody’s house. That’s why we put the days on there,” said planning board chair Chris Schena. “When do you make a short-term rental a commercial enterprise? I don’t think any of them are going to rent 365 days a year, but I don’t want a Holiday Inn next to my house.”
As is usual practice with a zoning-related law, the county planning board must review the proposed document before the town can approve it, but the county has no authority to change it.
“The only thing they questioned is ‘CEO’ in our version is ‘code enforcement officer,’” said Brown, who attended the meeting with Schena. “Some of the members thought it was ‘chief executive officer,’ so they asked that be clarified and spelled out.”
Brown said the county did note short-term rentals as a county-wide concern since so many other towns are looking into it and recommended Great Valley approve it.
With the town board at a deadlock, Sorgi suggested they send two more local laws to the county to review: one removed of every regulation that simply allows short-term rentals and one closer to the original with the limited days and mileage removed.
“If they recommend against any one of those, it would trigger a four-fifths vote,” he cautioned.
Because there is no county planning board meeting in November, the local laws would not be reviewed until December, meaning the Great Valley board would not vote on it until its regular January meeting.