vacation rental property creates Stir in Dunkirk | News, Sports, Jobs
DUNKIRK – Over the summer, residents of the city of Dunkirk, especially those living on or near Woodlands Drive, have had to deal with some kind of continuing disruption. A house in this neighborhood, located at 5186 Woodlands Drive, was purchased at the end of 2020.
At the time, residents believed that whoever bought the property would use it as a summer vacation home. However, over the summer residents began to notice some strange behavior coming from this property on Woodlands. Residents like Dave Maternowski noticed groups of people he didn’t recognize in their small neighborhood and, upon speaking to them, learned that they were out of town visitors using an owner-owned vacation rentals property ( VRBO).
From there, regular residents of the neighborhood saw groups of people coming in and out every weekend during the summer, some groups of up to 10 people, who came with dogs. The group of neighbors quickly realized that this was not actually a family summer home, but rather a vacation rental property.
It would be one thing if people using rental property were peaceful and respectful, but neighbors have reported just the opposite. Phil Leone, a resident of Woodlands Drive, said visitors would encroach on neighboring properties in search of black squirrels, bald eagles and several other reasons that have proven to be disruptive. And when locals first turned to the city of Dunkirk for advice, they were greeted with advice that did not suit them well.
“I was a little surprised at the response I received from President (Richard) Purol when asked what we should do when groups of strangers pass through our property.” said Maternowski. “His response was to confront them, see who they are, and then call the authorities.”
As a traveler, Maternowski didn’t want to put his wife in a situation where she was confronting groups of visitors, and calling the authorities to warn a group does nothing for the group that comes next to the neighborhood. Thus, since the summer months, this group of residents has pleaded their case before the city council.
And the city council’s interpretation of local laws is the main disconnect. Woodlands Drive is part of an R-1 residential neighborhood. According to the zoning decree of the City of Dunkirk, an R-1 district is intended for single-family dwellings. A family, as defined by the zoning ordinance, consists of up to three people in a unit, or four or more if they live together as a traditional family.
The zoning ordinance also states that a unit where the occupants act as separate rooms is not a traditional family, and the groups living in these neighborhoods must be permanent and stable and the group cannot be “Transitory or temporary in nature”.
This last line seems to be the crux of the dispute between the inhabitants and the elected officials. The zoning ordinance specifies that a passing guest is “A guest of a bed and breakfast whose stay is temporary and does not exceed 30 calendar days. “ For the inhabitants of the district, this language is clear. For city council and zoning officer Ryan Mourer, that’s anything but.
“My interpretation is that the language is not clear enough” Mourer said at a previous meeting. “It is the responsibility of the municipal council to clear up the language. And from there, where do they clean it? Are they cleaning it to go towards your request or are we cleaning it to allow VRBOs. I don’t know what they are thinking, but it won’t happen in the timeframe you hope. Unless someone can prove that the language I am reading is incorrect, we cannot stop them from doing so.
At the October meeting, Mourer said he would not take any further action on this matter, as he made his interpretation that the language of the law is not clear enough for him to act, leaving at the town hall of Dunkirk the care of further clarifying the language. . Dunkirk City Council has previously said their zoning needs to be updated in several different areas.
The ambiguity that Mourer said exists should also work in favor of the residents of Woodlands, in their view. According to the zoning ordinance, when a use is not specifically listed as authorized, even with a special permit or a review of the site plan, “It shall be considered a prohibited use unless it is determined, in a written decision of the Zoning Appeal Board, that such use is similar to permitted uses, meets the intent specified in the Law on zoning and is not inherently a nuisance, threat or danger to the health, safety or well-being of residents of the municipality.
Woodlands residents say they have nothing against short-term vacation rentals, with some claiming to have used these services in the past. Their only problem is that they feel like this one is ok in an area where it shouldn’t be. There are places in the city of Dunkirk where these types of rentals are allowed, like neighborhoods labeled as R-2 neighborhoods, which have special permits to allow these things.
Currently, the only special use permit authorized for R-1 wards is for essential facilities, although there are proposed changes to the zoning laws for R-1 wards that would allow bed and breakfasts and guesthouses. shelters, among others, but the City Council has not changed anything in this regard.
To this group of neighbors, it seems clear that this property violates zoning law. And even though Mourer made his designation, the residents used their rights to file a formal appeal because they hired a lawyer to help them with this case. Just before Thanksgiving, from their attorney’s office, an eight-page letter was filed with city council to appeal Mourer’s decision. Their lawyer, Colin Knoer of the Knoer Group in Buffalo, concluded what the residents themselves believe they know.
“Short-term rentals are not authorized in R-1 districts under the current language of the zoning ordinance of the city of Dunkirk”, the letter said. “To the extent that one might argue that the Zoning Order is ambiguous, the Zoning Order sets out a very specific procedure by which the Zoning Appeal Board may determine that an untreated use should be permitted in any district. A reading of the zoning ordinance as a whole, given the uses that are only permitted in other districts and the clear language excluding the transitional occupancy of R-1 districts, cannot support a conclusion that short-term rentals are permitted in an R-1 neighborhood. “
Residents of Woodlands have raised the possibility that some members of Dunkirk city council have a vested interest in owning a rental property, either now or in the future, but Purol was quick to refute the idea. In addition, Purol was keen to make it clear that it listens to its residents and is trying to determine what is best for the city.
“Nobody takes sides with anyone in one way or another” Purol said. “There’s nothing our code enforcement officer said we could shut them down for. And we look at it through the zoning, and that’s where it happens. We are not ignoring you, but there is a procedure we must follow.
Ultimately, the residents of Woodlands Drive look out for themselves, but more importantly, they look out for their neighbors. In their eyes, if this type of dispute can happen to them, it could happen to anyone, and they want people to know that if it does, it can be fought.
“We are owners” said resident Jay Warren. “We are doing what anyone else would do: protect our neighborhood and protect our environment. We want to protect what we have.
Although rentals have apparently ceased with the onset of the winter months, residents continue to plead their case with Dunkirk city officials. The next meeting of the Dunkirk municipal council is on Tuesday, January 18. There are currently no meetings scheduled to hear the appeal from the residents of Woodlands.