May 29, 2024

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce
A group of residents from Woodlands Drive in Dunkirk gathered at last month’s Town Board meeting to voice their displeasure over a property in the street being used as a short term rental property.

Residents in the town of Dunkirk, specifically those on Woodlands Drive, have been bothered now for several months by a vacation rental by owner location. The house, at 5184 Woodlands Drive, has been causing such a stir within the neighborhood

Almost 20 residents attended the meeting, most of whom live on Woodlands Drive, and pleaded with the Dunkirk Town Board and town Zoning Officer Ryan Mourer to disallow the use of the rental property.

“We’ve attended two meetings and had two letters sent from our attorney to the town,” said Woodlands Drive resident Phil Leone. “We have not had the courtesy of a response from anyone. It’s like we’re sitting here and words aren’t coming out of our mouths. We’ve followed the proper procedure.”

Leone said they have filed complaints in writing to the Zoning Officer and aren’t satisfied with the response they’ve gotten from Mourer. This month’s meeting was the third this group of residents has attended. They are tired of fighting the issue, and wish for a hasty resolution. Further, the Woodlands Drive residents feel the code is clear.

“The homes in these neighborhoods were not intended, arranged, or designed to be hotels,” said Woodlands Resident Jay Warren. “It’s not the spirit of the law. You have to look beyond and ask what the intention of the people who wrote this law was. You look at the intention and the definitions and the section on single family occupancy and it’s clear.”

Residents of the neighborhood all pitched in together to hire an attorney to help them parse through this matter with the town of Dunkirk and Mourer. The main concern of the residents is safety for them and their families. They do not feel comfortable having transient guests in and out of one house on the road every few days, as they feel it disrupts their safety and sense of community.

S“There is no benefit for all these neighbors,” said resident Sue Hazelton. “(The location) is only causing our little community to feel not so safe with people coming and going every few days. This interferes with our way of living and I think it’s a very strong security issue. You cannot have a business in a small residential area.”

The residents aren’t satisfied with the response they’ve gotten, even though Mourer says he’s given them the required response, and hasn’t responded to any other inquiries past the first one out of redundancy.

“I made it very clear with my response that I was not going to act on this,” Mourer said. “I don’t feel the language gives me the power to act on this and prevent it. I felt no reason to respond to your additional letters.

Mourer’s side is that the language of the Dunkirk zoning law does not limit the use of residential property as a transient rental property, though the residents of Woodlands Drive interpret the law differently.

“My interpretation is that the language isn’t clear enough,” Mourer said. “It’s the Town Board’s responsibility to clear up the language, and from there where do they clean it up? Do they clear it up so it goes toward your request or do we clean it up to allow VRBOs. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but it won’t happen in the timeframe you’re hoping for. Unless someone can prove the language I’m reading is incorrect, we can’t stop her from doing this.”

Mourer has made his position firm but has suggested to the Town Board that they clean up their language so this issue can be more smoothly resolved. As it stands, Mourer has to remain neutral to best serve all involved parties.

“I have to look on your side and I have to look on their side,” Mourer said. “I am not going to act on this. I don’t see where they’re doing something wrong with the current language. If the Town Board wants to write something in the current language so it’s clearer and it’s a better understanding, I’ll be glad to act on it.”

As this issue has been ongoing for several months, Town Councilman Bob Penharlow has been doing research to attempt to resolve the matter. An option he read about was to regulate the use with a special use permit issued by the Town of Dunkirk, who would have control over the matter. Penharlow believes that this avenue could provide everyone with the solutions they’re looking for.

“Some things that could be addressed by a special use permit are parking requirements, occupancy limits, and maybe limit it to 90 days a year that the property is available for rent,” Penharlow said. “It would also control noise, nuisances, traffic, litter, trespassing and safety. All those could be addressed with a permit.”

Penharlow suggests getting a sort of preliminary permit that can later be fine-tuned as more issues come up. Though Penharlow’s solution is more of a rough idea, he believes an annual use permit could help. Mourer agreed that there is precedent for this type of potential solution.

“Many cities down south, you have to pay an annual fee and they give it to you as long as there are no major issues,” Mourer said. “That may be a solution.”

At the end of the day, the decision rests with the Town Board on what they wish to do with the rental property, but Mourer’s position is clear that with the way the town law is written, there is currently nothing they can do to prevent the rental.

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