Housing top concern in Shandaken town board election – Hudson Valley One

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Top, Ken Anello and Elizabeth Kneissl. Bottom, Paul Beyer and Robert Drake.

The town of Shandaken has two town council seats up for election in the voting that will be completed on November 2, and four candidates in the running. The Republicans are Ken Anello and Paul Beyer, and the Democrats are Elizabeth Kneissl and Robert Drake. Angel Molina is also on the ballot for the Working Families party, but he says he has officially withdrawn from the race and is throwing his support behind the Democrats.

Republican Ken Anello has a bachelors of science degree in business administration and started a successful landscaping service on his native Long Island in 1980. As a youth, he had years of Boy Scouts and attained Eagle Scout, experience which taught him about “leadership, volunteerism, self-sufficiency, and giving back to the community.” Having visited the area frequently over the years, Anello moved to Shandaken in 2013, when he bought a motel, which he renovated himself and operates as Slide Mountain Motel, at the corner of Routes 42 and 28. He is on the board of directors of the Phoenicia Business Association and is an avid hiker, having bagged enough peaks to make him a member of the Catskill 3500 Club.

One of the major issues Anello is concerned about is the insufficiency of cell service in the town. “There are situations where it’s a safety issue. People get lost in the woods, their GPS is not working, and now you have a search. It’s taxing on the police and fire department and EMTs. We’ve got to get on the case of the cell phone companies for stronger signal towers or subtowers.” Aware of the resistance the town has encountered on the part of the cell companies, he mused, “Do we get a coalition of people together to march on the companies?”

He feels short-term rentals (STRs) are getting out of hand and could, in some cases, cause health and safety issues in unregulated structures. When out-of-town corporations buy properties for rental, as opposed to owner-occupied STRs, they have no concern for how it affects the neighborhood, he observed. The town board is slated to consider the recommendations of the STR committee, and Anello wants the board to give the report a thorough review before adopting its suggestions. “Some things are good about it, and some things could be changed. We have to consider the permitting process and possible occupancy limits.” Given the work that will required to inspect and permit STRs, he approves of the town supervisor’s recent suggestion to separate the roles of building inspector and zoning officer, which are currently combined in a single employee.  

A related issue is the insufficiency of affordable housing. “Unless you’re building a structure like the senior housing in Phoenicia, how can you get people to convert their places to long-term rentals when they’ve got an Airbnb? If they’re getting inspections annually, and have to get a temporary housing permit, like the hotels, maybe they’ll get tired of it, and it will result in affordable long-term rentals.”

Anello is also concerned about the infrastructure issues in Pine Hill, where roads cannot be repaired until stormwater drainage issues are addressed, an expensive process. “I would love to see the police department out on Route 28 to pick up the guys from New Jersey driving by at 70 m.p.h.,” he remarked.

Anello added, “I’m looking forward to hopefully contributing to the community and will do the best I can to listen to everyone’s needs and concerns and try to make a positive impact.”

Elizabeth Kneissl, running on the Democratic line, is a systems engineer and project manager with over 25 years experience in the construction and technology industries. She has served on Shandaken’s Board of Appraisal Review for challenging assessments, and she is a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. 

She was also on the Short-term Rental Committee, which met monthly for over a year. “I believe the committee did a really good job, reviewing what other towns did, what did and didn’t work elsewhere, and we got a lot of community input. There will be a public hearing. The committee’s report is now over a year old, so maybe some things should be looked at again.”

The topic of STRs leads into the issue of affordable housing. “Most people say there’s no affordable housing because of short-term rentals. Yes, we do want to curtail nonresident corporations from buying up homes for STRs. We’d rather see those homes owned by someone who lives here. But housing costs in the area have been going up steadily for a long time. One problem is that there’s limited land available for building, since we have flood zones, steep mountains, protected forest land. I think we should get the STRs under control, then go further and look at our building codes. Some regulations make it expensive to build. We have to look at what land we do have available, and how we can support people who own long-term rental properties.”

Regarding cell coverage, Kneissl observed, “People are telling us we have to go after the providers and build towers or repeaters. But years ago, when Verizon was willing to put up a tower, it was shot down by the community. From what I hear, there’s bad blood there. Also, some people are against cell coverage, ugly towers, and radiation. We have to get community support before we can pressure the tech companies.”

In her opinion, infrastructure is an even bigger problem. “The roads and the town water systems need a lot of work. If you want a long, worrisome conversation, talk to someone on the water board about the condition of pipes and pumps. You won’t sleep that night. They’ve been working like crazy to band-aid the town’s water system.”

Before Kneissl moved to Shandaken three years ago, she said, “I decided I was going to get involved and make sure I’m not just sitting at home and complaining, like I was in Brooklyn. Within weeks, I was approached by the town supervisor and asked to join the STR Committee, then the appraisal board and the ZBA. Then the Democrats were losing two board seats, and no one was running, so people asked why I wasn’t running. I was delighted when more people stood up to run. Maybe seeing someone who just moved here jump in made them nervous, but I was glad to see people getting involved.”

Republican candidate Paul Beyer has lived in Shandaken for 18 years, after having his own business selling and servicing TVs on Long Island, a job that taught him skills of communication with people, troubleshooting, and mechanical abilities. He now works as a handyman, offering electrical, plumbing, and other services, while working on antique electronics for enjoyment.

He is disturbed what he sees as “pressures by folks recently arrived to change the town to their tastes. People who have been in this area matter a great deal to me. I don’t want to displace them to gentrification, or change the nature of the town to please newcomers. STRs have given us a fair number of absentee landlords, who are using the town as cash cow.” Noise issues have also been a problem for neighbors of homes with STR guests. He sees the town board as needing to strike a fine balance as they decide how to treat the STRs. “We don’t want to over- or under-regulate.”

In his conversation with town residents, Beyer has heard of the difficulty people working at Brio’s are having when they try to find places to live. “Only 30 percent of our land is available to people, so housing is an issue. Employment in construction seems to be terrific, but people are usually complaining about kids moving away as soon as they graduate high school.” One strategy for securing more affordable housing, he suggests, would be to encourage homeowners who have set up spaces in their homes for rental purposes. “Now that they’re getting good money for STRs, maybe more residents would be interested in long-term rentals.” 

In general, Beyer sees the town as well-run and the town officials as being careful with the taxpayers’ money. If elected, he expects to “look at what’s presented and make judgments on the research. I have an independent viewpoint. I just don’t want to see character of the area change a lot. I hope the locals will not be driven out by newcomers, and I want to try to keep Shandaken a wonderful place to live.”  

Democratic candidate Robert Drake, while working for the Mid-Hudson Library System (MHLS), helped the Phoenicia Library get its technology up and running when the building was rebuilt after the 2010 fire. For the past four years, he has been head of information technology for the Nassau Library System (NLS) on Long Island, doing much of his work remotely. Thanks to these jobs, Drake has extensive experience with project management, acquiring grants, speaking to town boards, and coordinating the work of various governmental agencies. Drake also owns two buildings in Phoenicia that are occupied by long-term tenants and started a small business in town this year with his girlfriend.

Most the people he’s spoken to while campaigning “can understand why folks would Airbnb their properties but would like to see it reined in, and I agree. My sense is that the recommendations that came out of the STR Committee are fundamentally very good and form the core of what the town board should pass. But it doesn’t set out the details of operations. If we have a permitting process, who does it? We’ll have hundreds of applications, each requiring site appraisal.” One option, he said, would be to require documentation from all STR owners and send an inspector to appraise a random sampling of properties each year. 

Regarding affordable housing, Drake does not think STR regulations are likely to change the economics facing a potential landlord looking to choose between short- and long-term rentals. “If we can build up a pool of money through STR licensing, it can be used toward other projects, perhaps a partnership with RUPCO or SHARP or another housing affiliate.” Another possibility is to explore fair tenancy laws to prevent evictions that landlords can use to turn their properties into STRs.

Drake acknowledged the need for work on Pine Hill’s sidewalks and roads, supplementation of the aging pumps of the Phoenicia Water District, and the replacement of bridges for flood preparedness. He hopes his experience with grant acquisition can help with funding in some of these areas.

“The sense I get from talking to folks is that they feel I have not lived here long, only three and a half years. But it’s not accidental that I landed in Phoenicia. When working for MHLS, whenever I got off work, I would go hiking. I was drawn to Shandaken specifically. When I started working for NHS, I lived in Queens for a year, but then I realized Shandaken is where I want to be. It’s a great place, and I want to make it even better.”with pics (43 tomato, 43 pumpkin)