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May 30, 2013

Village still working on tourist accommodation law changes

New public hearing at least a month away

By Greg Klein Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Another public hearing on the proposed changes to the tourist accommodation law is at least a month away, but village attorney Martin Tillapaugh told the Cooperstown Board of Trustees that he believes a new draft will satisfy everyone.

“Essentially, what we have come up with will incorporate the best of both worlds,” Tillapaugh told the trustees at the board’s monthly meeting on May 20.

A new proposal would still end the amortization, or grandfathering, of properties covered by the Soule agreement. However, property owners that are not receiving complaints from neighbors will have their amortization period extended. Properties that are the subject of multiple complaints, on the other hand, would not be extended and ultimately would lose the right to rent on a short term basis. 

“Of the 27 complaints we have received, basically it is for four properties,” Tillapaugh said. “This way the people who are running a good business and not causing any problems, can be extended and continue to do business.

“Everyone would still have a 5-year grace period,” he continued, “but if after – and I am just making up a number here – 10 complaints, or whatever we decided, then we would basically consider their grandfathering to have come to an end. If people can see that they are progressing to losing their grandfathering, they can step in and take action.”

An April public hearing on the proposed changes drew about 15 people and lasted the full hour allotted for public responses. Comments were nearly evenly split between property owners upset that they might lose their right to rent their homes and those who lived near problem rentals.

A proposed provision that all rentals be owner-occupied upset many of the people at the hearing, including Steve D’Espisito, who owns the Rose and Thistle Bed and Breakfast, but lives in an adjacent property at 132 Chestnut St.

“I understand there are properties in this town that are horrible,” he said. “I say go after those properties.”

Paul Kuhn, who lives at 51 Chestnut St., expressed support for the proposed changes, saying that his family has dealt with problem renters for years, telling the story of a problem with a nearby property that is not owner-occupied.

“That began 15 years of residential hurt based on non-conforming properties,” he said. “We have been through hell.”

Fly Creek attorney Les Sittler, who wrote the Soule agreement around 2001 and the subsequent Ostapeck agreement not long afterward, also spoke at the April hearing. Sittler, who was there representing a number of clients, said last week that he is happy that the board has listened to the objections of his clients and other property owners.

“I am very gratified that the board said, ‘hey, we need to look at this some more,’” Sittler said. “It was a very mature decision on their part.

“I would say that the devil is in the details, and I would have to see the final proposal, but I understand that they have taken our concerns seriously,” he said.

Sittler said that the issues raised during the original agreements are very similar to the current concerns of his clients.

“You can’t just take away people’s property rights,” he said. “I would say they have to think this through very carefully.”

“I think former mayor Wendell Tripp said it best when he said, ‘there are no bad people in this.’ I thought that was great,” Sittler continued. “These are all neighbors. Having seen a lot of this stuff over the years, I would hope they can find a middle ground.”

No public hearing was called on the issue for the board’s June meeting, meaning the earliest the proposal can come up for a vote would be July. Tillapaugh, meanwhile, said that work on the revised proposals is still underway.