By Joshua Maloni
A capacity crowd at Tuesday’s Village of Lewiston work session provided more than a few items for trustees to consider, as the board works to create new regulations on short-term rentals.
Attendees were provided copies of a 10-page document detailing short-term rental definitions, standards, permitted areas and requirements, as well as health and safety obligations and owner/tenant responsibilities, plus a sample application. A dozen residents provided comments on the proposal before Mayor Anne Welch said the Village Board would table a motion to adopt the policies.
Welch, Trustee Tina Coppins and Rita Geiben from the newly formed committee on short-term rentals will review the public comments and make revisions to the new code – while likely formulating some sort of cap on units, be it by quadrant, neighborhood or overall total – en route to a second presentation and public hearing during the monthly Village Board meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Trustees expect to adopt the short-term rentals policies later that night, then enact a moratorium on such businesses to assess where and how existing units are operating.
Welch said existing short-term rentals will be grandfathered in – but Coppins noted they have to register with the clerk’s office (if not already done) – and provide proof of existence.
At a public hearing prior to the meeting, Welch said short-term rentals – Airbnb or otherwise – have “cropped up” all over the village, thus requiring elected leaders to “get a handle” on the situation. She recently told NFP, “people are buying up houses left and right, and we don't want to destroy our neighborhoods.”
Emery Simon, co-owner of the Lewiston Event Center and Lewiston Stone House, suggested short-term rental restrictions – should there be any – be confined to the village’s residential districts. He explained office units – like the ones he owns on Center Street – are becoming harder to fill in this era of Zoom meetings. Simon said he intends to convert his spaces into overnight lodging.
Former Planning Commission member Tasia Fitzpatrick said the proposed short-term rentals policies are well thought-out, but need another round of revisions – particularly as it pertains to the fine print.
Mike Crystal, who operates a short-term rental – and whose son has “several houses” – said such accommodations are sought-after, but need to be done in a manner that complements the neighborhoods in which they’re established. He said, “there has to be a balance.”
“We look at it as a privilege,” Crystal added. “It does serve a purpose because, no matter what, Lewiston needs a few of them. They need to be regulated. They need to be managed properly. But we have to be a good neighbor.”
Paul Beatty said his family recently debuted a short-term rental and, so far, the renters have been “amazing,” and the experience “wonderful.” He noted some guests have expressed trepidation about staying in other parts of the county – or couldn't find ideal temporary lodging. The added bonus, he noted, is that renters get to stay in Lewiston. That said, Beatty explained he would shut down his rental property if it didn't fit in with the village’s ideals, the neighborhood where it’s located, or if it generated ongoing complaints.
“You don't want to make enemies with your neighbors; you want it to be good for everybody,” Beatty said.
A handful of residents expressed their desire to have neighbors, and not just live in a village of homes.
Gretchen Broderick, who operates a short-term rental – and helped craft the village's bed and breakfast regulations – said Lewiston has catered to tourists for years, particularly when it comes to Artpark and its influx of visitors. She explained, however, that people who stay in short-term rentals are more likely to spend money across the municipality and not just drive past stores and restaurants on their way to or from an event.
The mayor said, “I think we can find a good balance between everybody and still have our neighborhoods.”
Welch stressed individuals or companies operating a short-term rental will be required to provide a floor plan with emergency evacuation details. She said the submissions don’t have to be professional or expensive, so long as they provide the required information.
Additionally, short-term rental properties that are grandfathered in will lose that status should they be sold. Any exclusions to the new policies will not carry over.
Village counsel Joseph Leone suggested future short-term rentals could be limited by zoning district, and that applicants could be required to complete an annual special use permit application.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
•Trustees tabled a motion to approve the request from resident David Olin for an extension of the R-1A district (residential, single-family, medium-density) to include his property at 100 S. Third St. The site is currently labeled R-B-2 (retail business). The request first has to be reviewed by the Niagara County Planning Board.
Welch said Olin intends to build a residential home, and that the site was previously zoned for such use.
Three residents spoke in favor of this action, but developer and professor Herbert Richardson said such approval would hinder his plans to convert adjoining property into rental spaces for professionals.
Richardson, a founder of the Edwin Mellen Press, said Olin’s plan would “cut a slice out” of his business plan. Instead, Richardson said he would like to acquire the property at 100 S. Third St.
He noted it was rezoned for retail business presumably “because (board members) believe it’s in the best interest of the village, long term, that commercial activities and buildings take place within this area.”
Architect David Giusiana, who is working with Richardson, said changing the zoning for Olin “doesn't just impact that lot, but also it impacts Herb’s properties, in that there’s a whole conversation about – once this is rezoned – there will be a whole new set of setback requirements, area coverages,” which could result in a need for a variance.
•The Village Board also tabled a motion to approve the request made by Coulter Farms to host a farm stand from 8 a.m. to dusk daily (late spring through fall, or possibly into winter), adjacent to the Lewiston Landing’s fish-cleaning station.
At issue is the location of the farm stand – it wasn’t quite in the spot leased for fall 2022 – the exclusivity of the operation, and a potential conflict with the annual Lewiston Farmers Market at Academy Park.
Trustees will gather more information before making a decision.
•Suggestions from the Planning Commission regarding “sandwich board” signs promoting small businesses are expected to be delivered prior to the Jan. 17 board meeting.
Elected leaders have expressed a willingness to adjust the local law prohibiting such markers, but under the conditions that signs have some degree of uniformity – and are not left out after hours.