CHRIS’S CORNER: Let’s Save Niagara Falls’ Neighborhoods

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By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman & Candidate for County Legislature

Our neighborhoods are threatened by a number of issues, including a few bad actors in the short term rental industry who are wreaking havoc on what were once residential streets.

While I am an ardent champion of free enterprise, we have rules and zoning ordinances for a reason. It’s not fair to homeowners to turn their residential neighborhoods into commercial districts.

Niagara Falls is a destination city, with millions visiting each year. That’s why we have so many hotels in our city. There’s a reason why we only allow hotels to be located in certain areas.

But not everyone wants to stay in a hotel room, so a new industry has blossomed and technology has made it easier to connect these tourists to people willing to rent their homes to visitors.

The city ordinance that regulates these rental units is in desperate need of reform. More and more homes in more and more neighborhoods are being bought up by investors who rent them out for the night, turning the house next door into a small hotel. There’s a lot of money to be made for these investors.

Last year, the new mayor and the new Council agreed that something needed to be done and we took action.

We implemented a temporary moratorium on the issuance of new STR (short term rental) permits so city government could revise the ordinance. We eventually had a new ordinance that four of the five members of the City Council agreed with, and even the fifth member wasn’t exactly opposed to it.

But because of a quirk of our zoning laws, in order to pass that new ordinance we needed a unanimous Council vote, and one Council member voted against the measure, leaving us with the weak existing law.

We need to revise the quirky zoning law that required a unanimous vote of the Council. No legislative body is handcuffed by such a thing. Can you imagine the United States House of Representatives needing all 435 members to agree on a measure for it to pass?

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the president asked for a declaration of war, the measure passed with just one dissenting vote. Can you imagine if that lone vote against the declaration of war prevented us from taking action?

As I write this, the Council is about to vote on another temporary moratorium on new STR’s and we will shortly vote on a plan to protect our neighborhoods from becoming commercial districts. Of course, there will be opposition to this, and they will be well funded and loud in their efforts to protect their lucrative business interests.

In fact, three of the candidates for City Council this year are either leaders of the short term rental lobby or supportive of their efforts. This is fraught with issues, and there could be a conflict of interest issue if one of these candidates is elected.

Before you vote, do your homework and find out which candidates are fighting to protect our neighborhoods and which are fighting to protect the short term rental industry.

We all want a thriving tourism industry, and short term rentals should be part of it, but there simply must be limits. We cannot allow this small industry to take over the traditionally quiet neighborhoods of our city.

We simply must protect our neighborhoods before it’s too late to reverse things.

Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Councilman and a candidate for the Niagara County Legislature for District 6. He can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com or 716-696-0086.

 


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