WESTFIELD – After applying for the proper permits, a local landowner was denied the opportunity to create an Airbnb on her property. She now plans to appeal the ruling.
Emily Ponti applied for a Commercial Recreation Permit, and after filling out the correct paperwork, was denied by the Town of Westfield.
“I had to appeal it, and it went to the BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals) so I attended the BZA hearing last month. Then just last weekend I received a denial on the denial for the Commercial Recreation Permit,” says Ponti.
Ponti built a Greenhouse glamp site this summer with her children on two acres she had purchased last spring in Westfield. Her intention was to rent it out on Airbnb and other short term rental sites to bring tourism to the community. She also mentioned that the county has a contract with Airbnb to collect their occupancy taxes directly, so she thought the build would be welcomed.
“When you go to the Westfield website, it’s very welcoming. They want people to come in and visit,” explains Ponti. “It seems like a very tourism friendly town, and that’s one of the reasons why I chose the property. I thought they would be willing to work with me. I want to bring tourism to Chautauqua County, to Westfield to help the economy.”
Ponti explained that at a recent board meeting, the town attorney told her that camping is not a form of recreation, and therefore her site does not fall under the Commercial Recreation category. She says the zoning allows for structures under 144 square feet that are agriculturally related without a permit, which is why she built the greenhouse.
“In today’s day and age, people want to get out of the city, they want to get in rural areas where there’s lots to do. And there’s lots to do in Chautauqua County, between the lake and the wineries and antique shops, there’s so much to do in Chautauqua County,” boasts Ponti.
Ponti and her kids drove up every single weekend from Cleveland to work on it with their own two hands. A day after finishing the project last August, she received a stop work order from Westfield, which is when she applied for the permit.
“The town did give me some alternatives. They said, build a 750 square foot structure, modify it. Remove the roof, cut down more trees to bring in more light, make it a true greenhouse, because I guess they don’t believe it is a greenhouse,” claims Ponti.
She claims to have a propagation station inside and over 50+ plants inside the greenhouse. There is also a $2,000 composting toilet to contain wastes so the environment is not impacted.
“If you’re a small business owner who can benefit from tourism, more people coming into your store. I feel like everyone kinda has an interest in this. Chautauqua County wants tourism in their towns as well as in their county. This would bring in the tourism and more customers,” says Ponti. ‘I would say if you’re a small business owner or just want to see your town thrive to call your local board members to say, ‘I support this. Can we work with her because we want to have more business in our communities.’”
Ponti is considering appealing the zoning board’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court under Article 78.
She began building things after her mothers death three years ago to teach her kids that women can build anything they put their minds to.