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To Rent Or Not To Rent In Lakewood

For as long as anyone alive today can remember, families have been pulling up to their summer rental cottages at Chautauqua Lake towing boats and coolers and kids.

The cottage rental has been a right of passage in America since the Industrial Revolution when vacations first became a thing. So, far be it for anyone to put an end to that, to allow a community to become so exclusive that the only people who have access to the lake are those wealthy enough to buy it.

I’m all for the cottage rental. It democratizes the waterfront. And the majority of renters who bound through the doors with their fishing poles and their beach chairs in Lakewood are here to make memories, to spend money at our little ice cream shops and restaurants.

The controversy in Lakewood about regulating short-term rentals is a tough one for folks, because there’s very few people who don’t empathize with both sides. There are neighbors with horrid tales about short-term rentals abutting their properties but there are also dozens of responsible landowners who have been giving good tenants access to our lake community for years.

Airbnb and companies like it have been a game changer. They’ve transformed the rental industry and not always for the good, prompting local and state governments to get involved. And when they do, they sometimes come down pretty hard on the short-term rental industry–with a hammer.

Residents are overly focused on the moratorium and that’s a mistake. Nothing has changed for rentals for the next year. What we need to be focused on are new regulations crafted during the moratorium, which will surely include new zoning laws that will ban rentals in certain areas of the village.

And that’s a big deal. When a governing body passes laws that tell tax-paying residents how they can use their properties, they must realize they are toying with fate here–they will change lives and destinies and that’s not something to take lightly. It’s too easy to approach this issue emotionally rather than with the care and diligence it deserves.

One village resident has bought more than a dozen properties–mostly in Lakewood, and more than a few of these properties are short-term rentals. I respect their right to do so, but this is where the waters get muddy.

I believe in the idea of community–where true stakeholders who care about our village occupy its homes, send their kids to our schools, volunteer on committees and vote. They care about their neighbors and contribute to the well-being of life here. When too many homes become short-term rentals, those homes become soulless, without any stakeholders living inside. And anyone being honest will admit that’s not an ideal situation for a small village.

I am against the sort of zoning where outright bans are put in place, but I see the need to regulate the rental industry so that our village doesn’t become a place of vacant, soulless homes. Other communities throughout the country have been successful at finding a balance, a workable solution, that, as one resident put it, is a “win-win” for everyone. And what that looks like is up to both the village board along with a dedicated group of residents to hammer out.

Hey, my family owned a cottage on the lake when I was growing up that we rented out from time to time when we weren’t there. I don’t think the neighbors were very thrilled, especially when one year, someone hoisted their underwear up our neighbor’s flagpole. This was the 1970s, so let’s not pretend the traditional cottage rental is something new.

My husband and I have rented our own cottage from time to time, especially in the winter when we’ve been elsewhere for his work. But Covid and big money — not just hosting platforms — have tampered with the fabric of many communities, where it’s not just the traditional rental that is being blamed, but big money coming in and steamrolling over a neighborhood, village or town.

We all know not all change is good change.

We can protect our community by encouraging stakeholders to live behind our village doors, while still honoring the timeless cottage rental.

How we do that is anyone’s guess, but there’s an opportunity here to get it right.

And it’s important that we do.

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