ITHACA, N.Y.—The Town of Ithaca board members met Dec. 29 for its 2021 end of year meeting, primarily focusing on the most prominent topic in the town recently: short-term rentals.

Opening the meeting were public comments focused on the controversial legislation, which had already gotten the public hearing and discussion treatment earlier in December. It includes a number of additional requirements for an STR, which refers to most rentals using Airbnb or Vrbo or similar services, to operate in the Town of Ithaca, including that they may only be located where the principal residence or host lives permanently or in an adjacent tax parcel, as well as a slew of other new regulations (more explained here).

The legislation eventually passed unanimously, ending years of committee work on the issue and potentially setting up a framework for nearby municipalities to enact as they grapple with short-term rentals. However, there was still significant resistance from some members of the public during the meeting last week.  

Among the persuasions from public commenters were several recurring topics: First, that limiting the number of days properties may be rented out for unhosted results in major financial changes to the property-owning individuals who may be relying on that income for various reasons.

Second, shortening the number of potential rental days will result in fewer tourists or shorter visits to Ithaca, meaning less tourism profits throughout the businesses in town that are at least partially supported by out-of-towners. Unhosted STRs are capped at 29 days a year outside of the lakefront zone and 245 days a year in the lakefront zone, perhaps the most contentious part of the legislation.

Third, that the attention to detail within the proposed bill on behalf of the board and lack of readiness despite its willingness to pass the legislation is not appropriate given the large impact this legislation will have on the short-term rental market in Ithaca and the subsequent additional individual and town losses.

Lastly, there are many other ways to discourage absentee out-of-town commercial investors without impacting local property owners.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Craig Durham noted that he believes the decision fatigue of the board resulted in a lack of empathy for those who will see financial losses if the legislation is passed. Additionally, he mentioned that the board had previously acknowledged that pre-existing nonconforming use in the town opens the town up to expensive lawsuits due to its lack of a grandfather clause, and that he will be filing a lawsuit against the town for the unfairness of the legislation if passed.

Another public commenter, Carolyn Green, who owns lakefront property and has been renting it out short-term since 2007, said that in the last year her property was rented for 363 days. 

“What will happen if we’re limited to 245 days is A) the property will go vacant, which serves no purpose, and B) which will probably raise the prices because we won’t want to fill in any of the days, we’ll want to maximize the 245 days that we get,” Green said. “It serves no purpose for this town, because less people will come and less tourists will spend their money here. It doesn’t benefit any of the objectives of the board, because I still have this house and I will be renting it short-term.”

Two other public commenters addressed the board’s previously discussed issues pertaining to potential noise complaints and issues of trash in neighborhoods with STRs by stating that noise and trash cans best be managed with proper leveraging of penalties with escalated fees charged to the rental owners if issues with the property and its guests were reported by neighbors.

Board member Tee-Ann Hunter addressed fellow board members saying that the Town of Ithaca should find a way to purchase lakefront property of its own so that it can become public access property for the community.

Town of Ithaca Walkway Improvement Project

Bids previously received for the Walkway Improvement Project were high, but the new bids the town received came back lower and the project will not exceed $320K, which will be awarded to ProCon Contracting. The motion was passed unanimously.

Cayuga Watershed Intermunicipal Organization (CWIO)

This resolution would allow the acceptance of a grant of $90,000 a year for two years from the Park Foundation to hire a new watershed manager. Decisions on whether whoever holds the position will be a town employee will be decided in the future. The board voted unanimously to accept.

Continuation of the town’s deer management program for 2022

Going into the program’s fourth year with 2020 and 2021 as fully active years, discussion within the meeting included passing a license agreement with Conifer Realty LLC for the use of approximately 68 acres for the program as well as granting parks and recreation to allow Culver Road Park Preserve to be used in the town’s deer management program; and what hours hunters for the project would be permitted to use hunt during.

Additionally, the Department of Environmental Conservation said it would rather the program be concentrated closer to the city because farmers can get their own nuisance permits for their own land. The board voted in favor. 

Ending remarks

The meeting ended with resolutions honoring Patricia Leary and Tee-Ann Hunter for their 16 and 20 years of service to the town, respectively.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...