Ludlow discusses traffic with Okemo and potential rental registry

The Monday, Sept. 12 meeting hosted John Neal, Director of Resort Operations for Okemo, and featured Ryan Silvestri of the Ludlow Rental Registry Committee. Photo provided

LUDLOW, Vt. – The Monday, Sept. 12, 2022 Ludlow Selectboard meeting was largely dominated by two conversations: a discussion with Director of Resort Operations for Okemo John Neal about traffic in town, and a conversation involving Ryan Silvestri of the Ludlow Rental Registry Committee over Ludlow’s need for a short-term rental registry. Citizens were vocal on all sides of both issues, touching upon the current housing crisis in Ludlow and Vermont as a whole, as well as whether Okemo and Vail carried a responsibility to the town to do more to alleviate traffic.

The meeting ran for two-and-a-half hours, during which citizens asked questions of Neal in preparation for the upcoming ski season, which has historically been traffic-heavy in Ludlow. Neal highlighted a plan by Okemo Mountain which will include capping ticket sales to reduce traffic to and from the mountain, as well as an enhanced bus strategy, more similar to that which was implemented before the pandemic. “Usually,” said Neal, “we have 14 to 16 buses, but last year we only had six.” According to Neal, this year the mountain is returning to 14 buses. “We feel we can do a much better job of getting people to parking lots,” said Neal. Municipal Manager Scott Murphy echoed Neal’s optimism, mentioning “several meetings with Okemo senior staff,” and how this year, post-pandemic, there are a number of initiatives in place to curb traffic.

Although Neal spoke to several plans to streamline passage up and down the mountain, many citizens voiced concerns. Police Chief Jeffrey Billings was on hand and able to answer questions about the potential for a second traffic director on Main Street, saying that it wasn’t feasible for the department at the moment. Conversation ranged from the heavy traffic, to housing difficulties involving Okemo staff, to ambulance services. The conversation moved on when questions had largely run their course, with a citizen reminding those in attendance that Okemo is a major employer in Ludlow and has always worked hard to cohabitate with the town. Chairperson Bruce Schmidt, who recused himself from the conversation as he is also Vice President and General Manager at Okemo, stated, “We want to be good partners [to Ludlow], we’re going to continue to be good partners.”

A few other agenda items passed without much discussion, including the purchasing of a grader for the Town and a police cruiser for the Police Department, before Silvestri stood up and presented a summary report for the Rental Registry Committee. He spoke to safety concerns as the primary reason why, in the committee’s belief, the town needed a rental registry. “The short answer is ‘yes,’ we need one,” he concluded. If the town decides to pursue the founding of a rental registry, it will hire a third party company to mine and collate data relating to short-term rentals (STRs) in Ludlow, compiling information that could lead to greater safety and emergency vehicle support for the growing number of STRs in Ludlow, which has risen exponentially with the surge of Air BnB’s and similar options over the last few years.

A number of citizens were not enthusiastic at the idea of a rental registry, viewing it as a “threat to [their] private property,” as one part-time Ludlow resident stated. This sparked debate on the topic of housing in Ludlow as a larger issue, with one citizen standing up to point to the dwindling availability of rental options to anyone who might want to live in Ludlow in the long term, referencing the fact that one of his employees had to “live in a tent for six weeks,” just to stay in the area. The Selectboard decided to add the topic as an agenda item for next month’s meeting, noting that it was a delicate issue and should be given due consideration.

Twenty minutes were given to the possibility of reducing the speed limit on Buttermilk Falls Road and Freedom Hill Road from 35 miles per hour to 25, with the Selectboard promising to look into the issue and Chairperson Schmidt giving his personal assurance that the problem will not go undiscussed.

The next Ludlow Selectboard meeting will take place on Monday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. in the Heald Auditorium in Ludlow Town Hall.

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