2017-04-27 / Front Page

Rental session draws 115 people

County won’t regulate
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

TOM NIXON, standing, chaired a panel of citizens who spoke about short term rentals in Leelanau County during a county Planning Commission session last week. TOM NIXON, standing, chaired a panel of citizens who spoke about short term rentals in Leelanau County during a county Planning Commission session last week. Use of the word “ban” in the same sentence as “short term rentals” gained the attention of dozens of Leelanau County residents interacting last week on a Facebook page.

The online discussion was heavy on emotion and misinformation, but light on facts.

“Banning short term rentals in an area that lives off tourism just to get affordable housing for low wage workers working in the tourism industry … this makes sense to who exactly?” one person asked.

A thread containing some 43 comments and nearly three times as many replies followed on the social media site.

A combination of heated rhetoric and legitimate community interest resulted in a standing-roomonly crowd of 115 people appearing at the annual spring session of the Leelanau County Planning Commission last week.

The topic was weekly home rentals, which have buoyed home values in some places and changed the personalities of neighborhoods in others.

Those in attendance at the April 19 event heard that “banning” short term rentals was not the point of the discussion, and that affordable “workforce housing” is another topic entirely.

They also learned that Leelanau County, which sponsored the forum, will not become involved in regulating rentals.

Trudy Galla, head of the county’s Planning and Community Development Department, said that one of the biggest misconceptions among those commenting online before the session was the role of county government in regulating short term rentals.

“The county does not have authority to regulate short term rentals and has no plans to do so,” Galla explained. “The townships and villages administer their own zoning ordinances and will make decisions if there will be regulations, or not.”

Citizens who crowded into the community meeting room in the lower level of the county Government Center heard from a panel of Leelanau County residents who have direct knowledge and experience in dealing with short term rentals in the county.

Even those whose businesses rely on rentals were not opposed to some regulation.

“I think it is important to regulate short term rentals, but we shouldn’t go overboard about it,” said panelist Vicky Oltersdorf following last week’s session. “Probably the best thing local governments could do is require that every short-term rental has a contact person neighbors can call who is available to take care of any problems that arise. And there just haven’t been that many problems.”

Oltersdorf is a real estate broker who not only manages rentals for clients, but lives in a neighborhood where there are short term rentals.

The panel was chaired by county Planning Commission member and Suttons Bay Township trustee Tom Nixon, who played a key role in drafting a Short-Term Rental Ordinance that his Township Board adopted earlier this year.

Currently, only two other units of government in Leelanau County have such an ordinance on the books: the villages of Suttons Bay and Northport. Other panelists included:

 Teresa Duddles, also from Suttons Bay, who manages a family-owned short term rental and described herself as a “vociferous” opponent of local governments imposing unnecessary regulations on short term rentals.

 Teresa Woods is owner of Visit UpNorth Vacation Rentals, which currently manages 170 homes in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.

 Former Suttons Bay Township Board member Bill Drozdalski helped draft the township’s short term rental ordinance.

 And Empire attorney Dick Figura, who provides legal counsel to a dozen township governments in the region and has some personal experience with short term rentals.

Short term rentals in Leelanau County tend to be waterfront homes in residential neighborhoods that are occupied only part-time by their owners. In many cases, the owners cannot claim the property as their “homestead” and therefore pay the entire 18-mill “non-homestead” property tax. In some cases, renting out the property to summer visitors is the only way for owners to afford their waterfront vacation home.

Suttons Bay Township officials have noted that, in some neighborhoods, short term rentals are outnumbering properties that are occupied fulltime by their owners and are “hollowing out” certain neighborhoods.

In addition, the use of a property as a weekly vacation rental is not considered a residential use but a commercial use under township zoning. Therefore, commercial short term rentals operating in a residential district may be violating local zoning, and owners could be sued by neighbors. Short term rental ordinances allow for such properties to be “legal” and increase private property rights rather than limit them, according to proponents.

Short term rental ordinances generally set up a mechanism used by neighbors to contact landlords to correct any problems such as noise, traffic or other issues involving short-term renters.

Galla noted that last week’s session lasted a scant 90 minutes. The issue, however, won’t be settled soon.

Concerns about short term rentals in residential neighborhoods are growing in communities around the nation, she said. In some communities, Galla said, planners have conducted daylong seminars on the topic and have only been able to scratch the surface.

“I think the session was very useful and informative for a lot of people,” Galla said. “I hope people will take back some of the things they’ve learned to their own township or village government for further discussions about how to handle short term rentals in their community.”

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