ATHENS — Village trustees enacted a moratorium on waterfront development as the board continues to update the municipality’s 13-year-old comprehensive plan.
Trustees unanimously approved a resolution halting approval of special use permits and site plan approvals for the next six months in the waterfront and mixed use/waterfront districts.
“It gives us all breathing room to finish the comprehensive plan and figure out what we’re going to do next,” Trustee Joshua Lipsman said.
The village of Catskill took similar action in September 2018 when the board of trustees passed a moratorium on new waterfront development to update its 10-year-old comprehensive plan.
Although the new plan was adopted Feb. 26, the moratorium was extended in April because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are unable to work on and enact zoning laws that will support the comprehensive plan due to the COVID lockdown,” Village President Vincent Seeley said.
Athens is working with Community Planning and Environmental Associates to update its plan. Community Planning is the same firm that assisted with the 2007 plan, Lipsman said.
In October, the village received a $9,900 matching grant from Hudson River Valley Greenway for development of the comprehensive plan.
The village will match Greenway’s contribution through a combination of cash, in-kind services and volunteer hours, Lipsman said. The village has committed to making a $4,000 cash contribution.
A steering committee consisting of 19 members was formed in January to help guide the update.
Members include former Athens mayor Andrea Smallwood, Carol Bernard, former Athens mayor Chris Pfister, Diana Abadie, Diane Tompkins, Ellen Roth, Lipsman, Laurel Wolfe, Leslie Reed, Melissa Saturnino, Merrill Roth, Nancy Poylo, Paul Kim, Paul Salvino, Butler, Ron Puhalski, Sheila Brady, Todd Bernard and Tom Satterlee.
In addition to the moratorium, the board passed a local law requiring short-term rental owners to register their properties.
“[The proposed law] was put in place pre-COVID from the standpoint that had our governor, like Massachusetts, put any restrictions on short term rentals, how do we figure out where they are in village?” Mayor Stephan Bradicich said.
“We had no ability to understand what was out there or how they were governed. This is not meant to be restriction on short-term rentals. This is not meant to be revenue generating for the village. We need an appropriate amount of restriction to ensure properties are used as they are intended to be used.”
The board’s second public hearing on the proposed law was held May 27.
“It has been significantly rewritten to not just represent the board’s interest but the community’s interest as well,” Lipsman said.
Trustee Amy Serrago described the law as a great first step.
“One of the issues that comes up when Airbnbs proliferate in a community is that it does price out renters and lower-income residents and homeowners that would be full-time residents of the community in favor of becoming a hotel zone,” she said.
“[The law] gives us a foundation to build on,” he said.
Residents questioned how the law would be enforced.
Those who violate the law will be subject to fines, Bradicich said.
The board may conduct quarterly reviews in which rental listings are compared to rentals that have completed the registrations, he said.
Lipsman suggested a process created for residents to submit complaints about rentals that aren’t registered.
“We respect people’s property rights and people’s desire to use their property to Airbnb but also want to balance it against properties becoming nuisances like they have in other communities,” Lipsman said.
A few residents suggested that docked boats be added to the law because they can be offered as overnight rentals.
The definition for short-term rental in the law was changed to, “a dwelling, dwelling unit, moored vessel or other establish [rented] to a visitor for a period less than 30 days.”
The timeframe for the law was previously capped at 21 days.
Trustee Gail Lasher asked if campers should be added to the definition.
Bradicich said he believes campers would fall under “dwelling unit.”
Short-term rentals are a significant lodging option in Greene County.
A study by the county’s Economic Development and Planning Department found there are more than 9,000 second homeowners in the county, Greene County Economic Development and Planning Director Karl Heck said in January.
Greene County had 45,300 Airbnb guest arrivals in the summer of 2019 and ranked third in the Capital Region for guest arrivals, Deputy Greene County Administrator Warren Hart said.
Greene County and Columbia County have more than 1,000 Airbnb units each, according to the state Hospitality & Tourism Association.
A 2018 study by I Love New York estimated that Airbnb represents 50% of the county’s lodging income.