What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

The public discussion concerning vacation rentals, VRBO and Air B&B, at Highlands Town Board meeting last week was robust.  It was a good start to reviewing and making decisions concerning this critical issue.

The board created a road map of how to proceed. The Land Use committee will meet with staff and stakeholders to examine the issue. These meetings will be announced and open to the public.  Board members expressed the desire to have realtors and neighborhood residents participate in the process.  

Any proposals from the committee concerning short term rentals will go to the planning board for their review and recommendations.  A proposed ordinance with the planning board recommendation(s) would then come to the full town board for their review. Before any final action by the board, a public hearing would be conducted.  I don’t anticipate fast action on this issue.  As Commissioner Calloway and others stated at the meeting, this should be a careful and deliberate process, not a quick knee jerk response.

There were two overall perspectives revealed at this first public discussion. One was that the VRBO and home sharing movement will be good for business and generate not only room tax money, but also sales and property tax revenue.  Proponents also point out that short term rentals help address the limited number of hotel rooms available in town and increase tourist capacity.

Other folks expressed concern about bringing more tourists using this method and flooding quiet neighborhoods with more people, and traffic.  Some reminded the board that residents vested themselves in beautiful, stable, connected neighborhoods, and not in transient tourist venues.

As a resident invested only in my home, I am concerned with the idea of our neighborhoods becoming investment opportunities for some folks who have no interest in being “vested longterm” in the community.  One person came up to me after the meeting and asked what provisions does the town have now to prevent a company from coming into a neighborhood and buying large number of properties for the sole purpose of operating VRBO units.  My response was we have no provisions, and it may be that the laws would prohibit such provisions. I do see the need for regulating to some extent short term rentals.

But, my concern is what will the longterm impact of a proliferation of VRBOs?  Highlands residents have been invested and “vested” in Highlands,  that is the overall quality of life of this community.  These “vested” citizens worked to make Highlands an attractive community to live in, work, volunteer, worship and enjoy nature.  If we reach a tipping point where transient visitors are the dominate populations in our neighborhoods, I fear a profound loss in a sense of small town community life that we cherish.

Tomorrow at 11 am at the Hudson Library I will be moderating the Community Coffee with the Mayor.  Representative Kevin Corbin will be our guest.  Kevin can give us an update on pending state legislation regarding short term rentals and VRBOs.

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