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CAYUGA — An open house to hear concerns on new draft zoning laws, the first revisions to the code since 1988, sparked controversy over adult entertainment and short-term rentals in the village of Cayuga Wednesday night.

The goal of the open house was to get residents' feedback on the draft zoning laws as well as provide an opportunity to field questions and hear concerns. Senior Planner Kari Terwilliger of the Cayuga County Department of Planning ans Economic Development was present to assist the village's zoning rewrite committee. 

Throughout the meeting lively conversation took place and intermittently murmurs and side conversations filled the room while others raised their voices often to be heard over the chatter.

Currently a provision for adult entertainment exists in the proposed zoning code, and village Trustee Tara Fricano strongly disagrees with any mention of adult entertainment in the zoning laws. 

"Now I think this is very important that we protect our community and our children," Fricano said.  "I found ... there is no law that states we have to have an adult entertainment zone."

Trustee Don Wilson, Jr., also on the zoning code rewrite committee, disagreed with Fricano and said they'd been informed it may be a First Amendment right. He added that the village was advised to add the provision to zone for adult entertainment "to protect ourselves from it being right in the middle of the heart of our main streets."

Terwilliger explained that while there may be no law that says you have to allow adult businesses, there area also Supreme Court precedents which say they can't be prohibited. She added that if all the rules outlined for adult entertainment to be in the village are followed the area that remains is "the tiniest speck of dirt where no one is ever going to build."

"You can't assume that," Fricano said. "Do you want those people coming through our village? Because I don't." Fricano said she fears the zoning provision for adult entertainment would welcome the business into the village.

Village Clerk Deb Pinckney said that Fricano's concerns were noted and her comments would be considered for the final zoning laws. 

Another concern that was expressed persistently throughout the open house was the zoning provisions for short-term rentals. 

The zoning code draft defines STR as a residential property rented out for compensation on a temporary basis for less than 15 consecutive days. Other regulations are also imposed including parking and an allowance of four guest rooms with a limit of three guests per room.

Chris Ryan, a resident who rents his home, said he has concerns with how the zoning is written for short-term rentals, and believe that they may impede tourism.

One specific issue Ryan brought up was that the parking regulations didn't allow for parking in the front yard, but according to the definitions within the draft zoning law "front yard is the road."

Ryan and Paul Bentz, another home owner who rents his residence, are worried that if the zoning code for rentals and home sharing is not written with great care, there may be people in the community who will try to pick apart everything and make it so they can no longer rent their homes.

"Where does (the village) want to go?" Bentz asked. "There were a lot more commercial permitted uses in the 1980s."

"I remember when Cayuga had things. I watched this place go downhill my whole life," Wilson said.  "I'm telling you, this document here is 10 times better moving forward than what we had in 1988 that made this place a bedroom community. We are locked up."

Wilson later explained that while Cayuga had many more commercial uses and businesses in the past, most of them moved out of the village in the early 1980s — and then the zoning was changed in such a way that it essentially closed down the village for growth. 

"If we don't have any growth it's going to be really hard to keep this place," Wilson said. He added that Ryan and Bentz are helping to shine a light on what the village could be. His general sentiment was that he feels the proposed zoning laws will help steer the village in the right direction.

Terwilliger closed the open house by explaining that the committee is "going to take a breath" to "digest" all of the information and comments brought forward and from there the village will make a plan. She said once revisions are made, the draft zoning laws will move on to the county to be assessed for intermunicipal concerns.

Finally, Terwilliger  said the document will go back to the village board and a public hearing will be held before the zoning code is officially adopted. 

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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Towns Reporter