2017-01-19 / Front Page

Short-term rentals under a spotlight

So far, only two ordinances
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

One of only two short-term rental ordinances approved by local governments in Leelanau County may soon be updated.

And a proposed short-term rental ordinance for Suttons Bay Township has been put on hold following questions and concerns by landlords. The rental business has come under a spotlight recently throughout Leelanau County and other areas of the state where tourism is an economic mainstay.

The Suttons Bay Village Council this week appointed a special committee to consider changes to its short-term rental ordinance.

Short term rentals are properties rented by visitors for less than 30 days at a time, often on a weekly basis during the busy summer tourist season. Many short-term rental properties are on prime waterfront in residential neighborhoods.

The rental business continues through most of the county without township or village regulation.

Suttons Bay Village adopted the county’s first rental ordinance in 2005, and Northport Village followed with an ordinance in 2015. Suttons Bay Township is now considering adopting its own ordinance.

Suttons Bay village manager Wally Delamater said there are currently about 30 short term rentals operating within the village limits “that we know of.”

Delamater said complaints about short term rentals by neighbors have been less common over the 12 years since the ordinance was adopted.

“But the short-term rental ordinance we have in place does not comply fully with what’s in our Zoning Ordinance,” Delamater said. “There are also some provisions of the ordinance that have been hard to administer, and it’s time to take a closer look at it.”

He said that now landlords only register their rentals once unless the property is sold to a new owner. Delamater would prefer that permits be issued more frequently, not just once on a “forever” basis.

Other provisions in the ordinance are harder on property owners and village staff alike, Delamater said. One provision, for instance, requires a village official to conduct a physical inspection of each property before a permit is issued — something Delamater said may not be necessary.

Suttons Bay Township, which surrounds the Village of Suttons Bay, has been in the process of drafting a short-term rental ordinance for the past year. The effort ran into opposition during a public hearing held on a draft in November. Since then, a committee has been working to modify the draft.

Public concerns about the ordinance surfaced again last week when a dozen people showed up at Township Board meeting to offer public comment (see accompanying story above.)

Although many of the owners of properties rented out to visitors on a short-term basis are concerned about over-regulation and losing an income stream from real estate investments, neighbors of properties have advocated for stiffer rules to eliminate nuisances and protect their own property values.

Township officials note that recent court rulings designate short term rentals as “commercial activities” that can be regulated, especially when they are located in residential districts.

Many zoning enabling laws state that land uses not spelled out as allowed are in violation of ordinances.

Suttons Bay village and township officials say short-term rentals are made “legal” through ordinances that could also protect owners from lawsuits filed by neighbors.

At its regular monthly meeting, Monday evening, the Village Council agreed by consensus to authorize council President Steve Lutke to form a committee to review the existing ordinance and recommend changes. Trustees Will Case and Roger Suppes will serve on the committee along with Lutke.

“Our effort has nothing to do with eliminating short term rentals,” Lutke said. “One of our main goals is to get the ordinance to match up with our zoning ordinance. We are hoping there will be a lot of community involvement in this process and we’ll actively seek out public input.”

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