Warren County collected $89,732.32 in occupancy taxes from owners of short-term rentals between January and June 2022 – a 34% increase over the same six-month period in 2021.
Dan Barusch, Lake George’s Director of Planning and Zoning, said the number of legal short-term rentals within the Town of Lake George has nearly doubled since 2018.
Barusch estimates those rentals now gross $2.2 million per year, 4% of which is paid to Warren County in occupancy taxes.
A portion of those revenues are allocated to the Town of Lake George and according to Supervisor Dennis Dickinson, are used to fund special events and tourism-related projects.
“Year after year, the Occupancy Tax is generating more and more revenues,” said Dickinson. “We probably distribute more money than any municipality in Warren County.”
Benefits of STRs
According to the Northern Forest Center, a rural-focused research institute,” the percentage of housing units used as STRs in Lake George is significant; among Adirondack communities, it is second only to Lake Placid.”
The economic impact of short-term rentals does not end with higher tax revenues, said Gina Mintzer, president of the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors’ Bureau.
“Transient renters are going on boat cruises, they’re going out to restaurants, they’re ordering take-out. Short-term rentals make a tremendous contribution to our economy,” said Mintzer.
John Carr, the owner of several businesses and properties in Lake George, argues that the profitability of short-term rentals has stimulated the redevelopment of derelict properties, improving neighborhoods and benefitting the community.
Others, such as east side resident Richard Rodriguez, have pointed out that the ability to rent homes on a short-term basis helps retirees living on fixed incomes to pay their property taxes.
However much the new revenue may benefit the county, the town, local businesses and residents, short-term rentals do pose special challenges to resort destinations such as Lake George.
“The most harmful impact comes from investors who purchase properties to operate full-time STRs,” the Northern Forest Center stated in its November, 2022 report, Municipal Short-Term Rental Policies: Analysis and Recommendations for Adirondack Communities. “These investors can outbid most residents looking to use the property as their primary residence. The impact of full-time STRs also extends to long-term rental housing. A home that may conventionally be rented for $1,200 a month can easily generate that revenue if not more in a week as an STR.”
Barusch acknowledges that housing for families in Lake George is always in short supply, but agreed with the Northern Forest Center’s conclusion that Short Term Rentals exacerbate the problem.
“Short-term Rentals reduce the stock of available housing,” Barusch said. They also “detract from the community. They diminish our ability to attract families who will enroll their children in our schools, attend our churches and volunteer to serve on boards.”
According to the Northern Forest Center, 13% of housing units in Lake George can be linked to Short-Term Rental usage.
“The percentage of the town’s housing stock absorbed by Short Term Rentals will only grow if no action is taken, especially if STRs grow at the rate they have since 2018,” said Barusch.
Quality of Life Issues
Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais said his Board of Trustees adopted strict Short Term Rental regulations in order to limit the rentals’ impact upon the community.
“We began to see a proliferation of houses purchased solely for commercial purposes,” said Blais. “We don’t need dark houses occupied for short periods of time. We need people living in the village. We need people volunteering for the fire department.”
According to Barusch, “The quality of life of its residents is of utmost importance to the Town Board of Lake George.”
And in some Lake George neighborhoods, short-term rentals have indeed become “a quality of life issue,” he said.
“We’ve started looking at how rentals are impacting everything in these areas from traffic circulation to housing,” said Barusch.
Last August, the Lake George Town Board adopted a moratorium – to expire at the end of this March – on new short-term rentals
Since then, the Town Board has discussed, among other things, rezoning dense, mixed use neighborhoods as traditional residential areas, where Short Term Rentals are prohibited under the Town’s 2018 regulations.
Under the proposed changes, some neighborhoods east of Million Dollar Beach, composed largely of single-family homes and seasonal rentals, and west of Route 9, beyond Lake George Village boundaries, would be reclassified as Residential High Density. Those currently operating short-term rental businesses would be allowed to continue the practice, so long as their permits are maintained.
“We’ve received a lot of complaints and concerns from people in those neighborhoods, comments about the changes they’ve seen as short-term rentals proliferate,” said Barusch. “They want the residential character of their neighborhoods preserved. And that’s the intent behind these proposed amendments to the zoning code – to preserve the character of these neighborhoods.”
Proposed Zoning Changes
On February 13, the Town Board held an unusually well-attended Public Hearing on proposed amendments to the Zoning Code and Zoning Map.
Most of those who would be affected by the proposed reclassification of densely populated neighborhoods supported the changes.
Seth Harris, an east side resident, said a third of the homes in his neighborhood have become short-term rentals.
“These are businesses masquerading as residences,” said Harris. “Zoning laws were created to keep businesses and residences separate.”
Gary Moon, who lives nearby, said he too supported the changes in zoning.
“I support the protection of the peaceful enjoyment of individual property. We’ve had people making noise all night. We’ve had bonfires, drinking, shouting, music until 1 a.m.,” he said.
Megan Brantley, who lives on Sewell Street on Lake George’s west side, said the transient renters occupying houses on her street “are loud and super destructive.”
She said those in her household are subject to the noise of “huge groups of people coming home from bars at two or three in the morning. Once, we even had to wake up a drunk girl in our front yard. It has not been fun, at all.”
Andy Caruso, who also lives on Sewell Street, commented on the long-term impacts of short-term rentals upon Lake George.
“When I started working at Lake George Central School in 1992, we had slightly more than a thousand students. Today, our student population is shy of 650. People can’t afford houses. It’s that simple. The communities of the North Country are dying a slow death by a thousand cuts. Every time a short-term rental is allowed in a residential area, it’s a tear in the fabric of our community,” he said.
Preserving Housing Stock
Speaking to the Lake George Mirror before the hearing, Dan Barusch said, “By expanding the areas where new Short-Term Rentals are not permitted, at least we can slow the pace of the conversion of homes to Short-Term Rentals. We can’t get to the point where they’re 20% of the housing stock.”