Council votes on two contentious issues
By Jeff Simms
Stuck in a grey area between city zoning regulations and state building codes, the Beacon City Council voted 4-3 on Monday (May 21) to reject a proposed law that would have regulated Airbnb and other short-term rentals, effectively making them illegal.
It also voted 5-2 on a change in zoning that will lower by almost 25 percent the number of units that can be included in the Edgewater apartment development at the waterfront.
The council voted 4-3 against a proposed law that would have amended zoning laws to legalize short-term rentals made through sites such as Airbnb. If adopted, the law would have also required homeowners to comply with state building codes, which, for home-sharing, require adequate fire exits and other safety measures.
Council members Terry Nelson, George Mansfield, John Rembert and Amber Grant voted against the proposal. Jodi McCredo, Lee Kyriacou and Mayor Randy Casale voted for it.
Because the state doesn’t specifically address the relatively new home-sharing industry in its building code, municipalities must interpret the rules on their own, City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis said.
Tim Dexter, Beacon’s building inspector, has said that he interprets the state law as applying to home-sharing the same as it does to a traditional bed-and-breakfast. In other words, anyone sharing their home as a short-term rental would be required to meet the state’s fire safety requirements, including adequately marked exits from each bedroom and, in some cases, sprinkler systems.
An attorney at the New York Department of State confirmed that interpretation, Ward-Willis said, which means that most homes in Beacon would fall short of the code, leaving the Building Department no choice but to cite them for noncompliance.
However, Airbnb, the largest of the home-sharing services, believes Beacon’s interpretation “stands in stark and lonely contrast to the many cities and towns throughout New York and the region that have concluded that occasional home sharing is consistent with other types of permissible accessory use,” said Andrew Kalloch, an Airbnb public-policy specialist who submitted comments to the council.
Forcing homeowners to comply with the state fire provisions “would amount to a de facto ban on short-term rentals in Beacon,” he wrote.
On Monday, several residents who use Airbnb asked the council to reject the proposed city law, saying the state code would be too restrictive. But that leaves Beacon’s 110 active Airbnb hosts — who, according to the company, had 9,100 guests in 2017 — with few options.
That’s because the city zoning code, like that of many other municipalities, has a provision that “if a use is not expressly permitted, it is deemed prohibited,” Ward-Willis explained. Because short-term rentals are not mentioned, “they are prohibited,” he said.
There is a possible fix. If state lawmakers pass a measure that regulates the rentals — a version of a law is in committees in both the Assembly and Senate — it would establish what Airbnb says it considers “common-sense regulations” that would include requiring owners to post a diagram showing all exits and a list of emergency phone numbers; have insurance of at least $250,000; have only one short-term unit unless the owners are at the same address; and register the unit every two years with the state.
On Monday, the Beacon council passed a resolution urging the state to take action.
The council voted to remove steep slopes and other “non-buildable” land from its calculation of how many units can be constructed on a parcel, effectively lopping nearly 25 percent off the capacity of the Edgewater development on the city waterfront.
After the council approved the change, the city will now calculate the allowable density of a development on a parcel of 3 acres or larger on buildable, rather than gross, acreage. The vote was part of a continuing review of city zoning that began last fall.
In December, the council adopted the provision in the Fishkill Creek Development District. Monday’s vote extended the measure to the city’s largest residential districts. The council is still considering a plan to rezone Main Street and to strengthen its historic district.
The Edgewater plan, which began with 307 apartments on 12 acres northeast of the Metro-North station, has been under Planning Board review for more than a year. The project received environmental approval from the Planning Board in December, and the Zoning Board of Appeals in January granted three variances.
The project still needs a special-use permit from the City Council and site-plan approval from the Planning Board before it can break ground.
Monday’s ruling knocks about 71 units off the proposal because the Edgewater site includes a number of steep slopes. While the council’s vote came with little fanfare or discussion, there have been months of debate leading to it.
Edgewater officials have argued that the project should be allowed to proceed as proposed because it will cluster the apartments into seven buildings that only cover about 35 percent of the site. The remainder, including the slopes, would be open space.
Council Member George Mansfield, who, along with Mayor Randy Casale, voted against the measure on Monday, has said the law seems targeted at Edgewater, because it’s already well into its Planning Board review. But other council members have countered that the Fishkill creekside zoning measure also did not provide exemptions for projects under review.
That decision downsized the 248 Tioronda development, which was approved in 2014 for 100 units on nearly 9 acres but had not yet started construction.