Southold Town changed its six-year-old short-term rental law with little fanfare in early December, allowing rentals of less than 14 nights in several commercial zoning districts.
The original law, which was the subject of months of debate when it was adopted in August of 2015, prohibited rentals of less than 14 days throughout the town. Just before it was adopted, after much public feedback on both sides of the issue, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell quipped that “like Solomon, we’ve produced a result that absolutely pleases no one.”
The Southold Town Board voted unanimously to change the code to exempt properties in the Residential Office, Hamlet Business and General Business zoning districts from the prohibition on short-term rentals at its final regular meeting of 2021 on Dec. 14.
The change was championed by Councilman Bob Ghosio, whose term was to end at the end of 2021.
After Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said she wanted to table the resolution to the new year awaiting comments from the town planning board, Mr. Ghosio said he wanted to hold the vote because it was his last meeting before stepping down.
“I was involved with crafting it,” he said. “I would prefer to do it now.”
After a 3-3 tie vote to table the resolution, which failed, all six board members voted to approve it.
“When we passed the original legislation, we said at the time that we were painting it with a broad brush and we thought we’d be making changes along the way as we were seeing how everything was working out,” said Mr. Ghosio.
“When we tried to address short-term rentals, the idea was that it was a commercial use in a residential zone, but the problem was that we passed legislation that was so far enlarged that it actually eliminated commercial uses in a commercial zone, which was not sensible,” said Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
Only one person spoke at the public hearing on the change — Real Estate Broker Tom McCarthy.
“I think one thing that’s changing is smaller mom and pop businesses are being bought up by larger companies that are not necessarily based here,” he said of recent changes to Southold’s hotel and hospitality industry. “I think our hospitality and short-term rental dollars are now going out of town. This change to transient rentals will allow some dollars to stay locally.”
“I think transient rentals will always be a part of our community, whether they’re done legally or illegally,” he added. “There’s a short-term need in the community for people who can’t stay for two weeks and can’t afford one of these hotels. I applaud you for taking this step.”
“You’re right about some people not following the law. I would say it’s a lot more than some,” said Mr. Russell. “This has been much more difficult to enforce than we thought it would be, but we really have to make this separate (rentals in commercial zones), just for the good of the town and for the code itself. It’s not so easy.”