NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council during a May 3 special meeting approved a first reading of a proposed amendment to Chapter of 11 of the city’s Code of Ordinances “to provide an efficient procedure for revoking rental permits and make other modifications allowing more effective regulation of short-term rental units.”

Mayor John Humphrey said “this is the tool, that in combination with the increased police and code officer, the gets people their enforcement.”

He said the document (which can be viewed on the city’s website in the packet for the May 3 City Council meeting) has been out for six weeks.

“All of the stuff in here is to hold people who rent accountable and allow us to enforce that accountability where there’s a problem,” he said, later stating that permits will have to be displayed in the window.

“That is the easiest way to weed out … the illegal rentals,” Humphrey said.

Council members Mark Robertson and Lou O’Donnell IV both said they would like to see less of a paperwork burden on the city clerk and expressed doubts about having a single hearing officer handle cases that fall under the ordinance instead of a board.

Humphrey said the city attorney’s opinion is that the hearing officer (preferably a retired police chief or judge) is the cleanest, most non-conflict way to resolve such cases without the appearance of bias.

“I’ve never liked the idea of one person having a final say on anything in life,” O’Donnell said.

He also questioned the amount of information the people who rent and for the city clerk are required to keep on hand under the proposal.

Humphrey said the documents only need to be pulled out and used when there’s a problem.

Robertson also said he would like to see a monthly report from the code enforcement officer in the near future, and suggested having the code enforcement effort got on for a summer to see how it’s going to work.

There also were questions about how many registered short-term rentals there are in the city, with Humphrey saying it’s 165 – 87 of them in the R-1 district.

He later said a proposal expected soon from the Planning Commission suggests “some different ideas” from a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed in the R-1 district and hiring Granicus to do data collection.

Ultimately council members voted 4-1 to take the concerns raised on May 3 into account and incorporate them into the ordinance amendment proposal before its second reading and possible approval at the May 17 regular City Council meeting.

O’Donnell said while he’s for increased enforcement, he voted against approving the first read because public comments were he’d at the conclusion of the special meeting instead of at the beginning.

“We’re here for the people. This isn’t about us, it’s about them.”

City Council members also discussed, but did not vote on, a proposed resolution to end the ongoing moratorium on issuing new short-term rental licenses in the city originally adopted on May 18, 2020, and later extended through Aug. 31, 2021.

Humphrey said by passing an ordinance that provides strong regulatory controls, he thinks it would be prudent to remove the moratorium everywhere but R-1.

That “RESOLUTION TO TERMINATE THE EXISTING MORATORIUM ON THE REGISTRATION OF SHORT-TERM RENTAL UNITS IN THE CITY’S R-2, R-3, PUD, GCD, CBD, I-1, WM, AND NCD ZONING DISTRICTS” includes the following language:

The moratorium imposed on May 18, 2020 is hereby terminated in the City’s R-2, R-3, PUD, GCD, CBD, I-1, WM, AND NCD zoning districts. City staff is authorized and directed to accept and process short-term rental registrations for applications pertaining to dwellings in those districts pursuant to applicable regulations.

The moratorium shall remain in effect with respect to properties in the R-1 zoning district until August 31, 2021, or until the effective date of a zoning ordinance amendment providing short-term rental saturation controls for that district, whichever comes first.

While the moratorium remains in effect in the R-1 district, City staff may accept and process applications to re-register currently registered short-term rental units in the R-1 district in the name of a new owner, but otherwise shall not accept or process applications pertaining to dwellings therein.

Approximately 40 minutes of public comments followed, with Dan Coffey talking about a State House Bill (No.4722) that proposes to declare short-term rentals a permitted use in all residential zones and nt a commercial use of property.

Other comments included: Heather Gradowski (who said some positive progress is being made, although a great deal of information is still being requested and she questioned requiring designated local agents to reside within 20 miles of the boundaries of New Buffalo); Jason Millovich raised two “points of contention” – the reservation summaries asking for information such as dates of birth, make and model of vehicles, and more, along with a three strikes and you’re out policy that could be abused by “one contentious neighbor;” John Natsis said he feels members of the council are just now beginning to understand the issue and there’s no need to rush the process; several of those making comments spoke about their hopes to be able to again rent their homes in a responsible manner.

William Lenga and Dan Hatch got into occasionally heated exchanges with Humphrey during their public comment periods.

Also during the May 3 special meeting, the New Buffalo City Council:

Approved a site plan and special use permit for The Hummingbird Lounge to allow creation of outdoor seating to include a 19-by-19 foot deck area, as well as the construction of decorative perimeter fencing. Robertson asked about a portion of the description of development mentioning required parking spaces 32 with an asterisk and also states “shares parking with the bank.” He was told there is a shared parking agreement.

Voted 4-1 (with Humphrey voting no) to table taking action on a request for approval of a on a request for approval of a site plan to expand the outdoor seating area at the Beer Church, 36 S. Whittaker St., by constructing a raised deck at the existing patio that will include an outdoor pizza oven and pizza bar area. Robertson and O’Donnell raised concerns about the parking in the area. O’Donnell noted that a nearby lot not owned by the city is currently under a lease agreement that could be canceled and sought a legal opinion and more information on the parking situation at the city’s major intersection before moving forward in two weeks.

Approved a site plan request from Neena Vlamis for the construction of a new A&N Mortgage office building located on a vacant lot at 120 West Buffalo St. Architect Bill McCollum said the 5,400-square-foot building with eight parking spaces on the site. He added that the facility will only be used during the day.

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