Residents living next to a rental property said that their windows shook, their animals cowered and their children were scared on the weekend of Dec. 8, when Long Island renters at a nearby Airbnb started making noise with their guns.
While what the renters were doing — shooting at exploding Tannerite targets — was legal, responding officers determined, the ruckus irked neighbors and left the owners of the facility promising to keep a better eye on what their renters are doing. It also brings up the larger question of how, and even if, the town should regulate short-term rentals and adopt a noise ordinance.
This recent flashpoint was brought to the attention of town officials at the Dec. 12 Town Board meeting. During a sometimes-heated presentation to the board during the public discourse portion of the meeting, West Saugerties residents detailed their lengthy list of grievances against the property where the explosions took place — a 16-acre site on Blue Mountain Church Road called Hacienda de Leyenda.
“My wife is afraid to go outside. My dog was freaking out, the neighbors, having two little kids, were very upset,” said Peter Barber at the meeting. “They were shooting at exploding targets … they were shooting at these targets causing these explosions when a church service was going on. They didn’t know what was going on, the windows were rattling in the church. The police determined that [what they were doing] was legal.”
Agnes Barber was the first to make a complaint to police on Dec. 8 at about 11 in the morning, according to records obtained from the Saugerties Police Department. Police determined that the renters, who reportedly were retired police officers from Long Island, were shooting safely at a reasonable distance from surrounding homes. Police advised them to stop shooting for awhile.
The Barbers placed another complaint to police at 3:41 pm that day, but another officer agreed that the renters were acting lawfully, albeit noisily. But lawfulness and peacefulness don’t always go hand-in-hand though, evidenced by a complaint filed by Matt Ruberg, another neighbor, the next day. After Ruberg told police that shots were being fired near his home, police talked to the renters yet again, who were still shooting lawfully, this time at loud, exploding targets. The responding officer advised told the renters that they were within their rights, but were disturbing the neighbors.
“Our house was literally shaking, and we were unsure of what it was,” said Lauren Ruberg. “After the second day of hearing these explosions, my husband called the police. We were told that what they had was legal. I offered my girls to walk over and introduce ourselves to them. We were told that they were retired officers, and my understanding was that they knew how to use what they’re using, but they refused … My kids are very approachable, mature little people and they would not come next door with me.”
Barber and his wife, Agnes, detailed their other negative experiences involving the property at the Dec. 12 town board meeting — “loud, obnoxious music … with foul and vile language during the day,” allegedly incorporating the sounds of owls, wildcats and jungle animals. (According to the Hacienda owners, these claims stem from a single incident surrounding a reggae concert organized for Rainbow Warriors International on their property in June.)
Hacienda de Leyenda owners Gary Hardwick and Elizabeth Irr said that they were entirely unaware that their renters were causing a disruption until their businesses’ Facebook page “lit up” with complaints from neighbors. (Hardwick and Irr said the police hadn’t told them about the noise complaints.) From Australia and Pittsburgh respectively and currently living in Manhattan, the couple has begun their move to Saugerties full-time — currently, a property manager that lives locally oversees the goings-on at Hacienda de Leyenda.
“Clearly we are not in agreement with the family pulling out guns and shooting Tannerite targets in the middle of the weekend,” said Hardwick in an interview. “They would never gotten our permission to do so. I’m deeply saddened and upset, I’m annoying that they didn’t seek permission to use guns on my property … The larger issue is, rather than demonize us on a personal level, let’s look at laws surrounding how guns can be used on other people’s properties.”
“Renew Breakup Boot Camp,” a retreat that has garnered some acclaim after a write-up in The New York Times, has taken place at the site three times since the owners bought the property a year and a half ago. There have also been meditation, Pilates and “consciousness work” retreats. Their website describes the site as an “unparalleled luxury playground for you and your tribe” — the inspiration for the site’s layout and mission are drawn from the couple’s experiences attending the Burning Man events in Arizona. Outfitted with colorful teepees, a pool, tennis courts and a basement with a pool table, disco ball and bar, 32 people can stay on the property at once.
Hardwick and Irr say that, in their newly drafted rental agreement, guns will be expressly forbidden from the property and that renters will lose a $1,500 security deposit if police are summoned for a noise complaint.
They said curfew on the property has been pushed back from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Hardwick said that each person allowed on the property will be required to read the rules carefully. The owners insist that they already have an involved vetting process, involving checking their Airbnb reviews, providing their own questionnaire to guests about how they plan to use the property and asking the guest who makes the booking to make a list of everyone that will enter and leave the site. The front wrought-iron gate is outfitted with cameras.
As Town Supervisor Fred Costello mentioned during the board’s most recent visitation of the frequently debated noise issue, in early November, “People will rent a short-term rental, and have 15 or 20 people over to celebrate an event. I would argue that’s the driver in this instance. Short-term vacation rentals and parties [at Airbnb sites] are impacting neighborhoods in a way that’s unique now that hasn’t been happening before. Come spring, there’s no reason to believe that we won’t have a similar experience.”
Local governments all over the country are wrestling with the question of how to properly address problems with short-term rentals and the influx of large, temporary groups of people from outside the community, whose interests may not align with residents’ interests. Some say part of the solution will depend on the continued efforts of owners, like Hardwick, who will put the onus of responsibility on their guests.
Although communities like Beacon and Woodstock have come close to making headway on such projects, there is a delicate balance between protecting existing townspeople from disruptive renters and supporting the business of tourist-rich rental attractions that can bolster local economies.
Costello said in a later interview that the board would “set up a time” to address how short-term rentals should be regulated. He also spoke to Hardwick personally about the incident.
“He’s apologetic, and his own regulations on how he uses the property will govern that so that instance doesn’t duplicate itself,” said Costello.
“I believe that this has happened for a reason,” said Hardwick. “I respect it, honor it, and know that this has happened for a reason so that some healing can happen between my neighbors and I. There’s some healing to be done and we’re going to make sure that we heal that.”