NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council took action to register more short-term rental properties his summer, light up the sky over a graduation ceremony, and increase efforts to stop flooding near the public beach during its Monday, June 15, regular meeting.
City Attorney Nicholas Curcio said the City Council on May 18 imposed a moratorium on the registration of new short-term rental properties to allow time (up to 8 months) for the development of new regulations (the existing ordinance has been in effect for about a year).
Since April he said the city has been contacted by property owners who had recently obtained or renovated properties (investing substantial amounts of money) with the expectation they would be able to rent them.
He said the ordinance consists of “narrowly crafted exceptions that are designed to take the owners who can prove with documentary evidence … that they had already made (prior to May 18, 2020) substantial investments in their property, and they wouldn’t have done so if they hadn’t thought they would be able to rent it.”
He added that it may not have been possible for people to register their properties right before the resolution was passed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So far I think we have four property owners who have come to the city and indicated that they’re in a situation like this and they’ve all come forward with pretty solid documentation showing that. We don’t anticipate that there’d be many more than that if this resolution was adopted,” Curcio said.
Resolution 20.16 (passed by a 5-0 margin) modifies the moratorium imposed on May 18, 2020, to allow city staff to accept and process short-term rental registrations for applications received on or before July 15, 2020, in any of the following circumstances:
1. The property was previously registered as a short-term rental pursuant to Chapter 11 of the City Code, and was then conveyed to a new owner either before or after the date of this resolution.
2. The City Manager, with the assistance of the City Attorney, determines based on evidence presented that the applicant: a. Took title to the property between March 1,2020 and May 18, 2020, with the intent to use the property as a short-term rental; b. Recently completed construction or renovations on the property with the intent to use it as a
short-term rental, and was issued a certificate of occupancy after March 1, 2020; c. Entered into a contract, on or before May 18, 2020, to purchase the property with the intent to use it for short-term rentals, but had not yet closed it as of that date; or
d. As of May 18, 2020, had a valid building permit for the construction of a new dwelling or renovation of an existing dwelling, where the construction or renovations were intended to render the property suitable for short-term rentals.
The resolution states that applicants may submit evidence to establish a prior intent to use a property for short-term rentals such as receipts or invoices for expenditures designed to make the property suitable for short-term rentals (structural repairs, appliance repairs orr eplacements), evidence of other short-term rentals owned or operated by the applicant, or emails or other correspondence sent prior to the City Council meeting held May 18, 2020, indicating an intent use the property for short-term rentals.
Prior to the vote, John Humphrey spoke on the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying his home is in an R-1 district and “has faced continual harm from the short-term rental adjacent to my property.”
He asked the council to table the resolution and schedule a public hearing on the matter, saying despite its intent as stated “to protect the investment backed expectations of property owners,” there’s no equal protection of investment for those with R-1 zoning in the resolution who he said are entitled to be provided the benefit of the single-family nature of R-1 zoning.
Humphrey also said he feels the resolution is based on a false premise, saying there was never any legal authority to allow any short term rentals in R-1 districts so any new homeowners asking to circumvent the current moratorium in order to benefit from short-term rentals are asking the city to sanction an illegal operation.
And he said the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on June 5th affirming a lower court’s ruling that short-term rentals in Spring Lake Township (R-1 zoning) met the description of motel, and that the term “single family” does not pertain to people who have a transient relationship with one another.
“Since R-1 zoning allows only single-family occupancy, short term rentals are not legal,” he said.
John Natsis (Beach Town Vacation Rentals owner) also commented, saying he hopes that representatives of the vacation rental community, council members and concerned citizens can meet, adding that the feels the issue is deserving of some sort of a subcommittee when it comes time to discuss how the city is going to move forward over the next eight months.
Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV said the Planning Commission and workshops with the community are slated to be part of the process of reaching a mutually beneficial result when it comes to the city’s short-term rental ordinance.
The council also voted 5-0 on June 15 to give New Buffalo High School permission to shoot fireworks for its graduation ceremony scheduled for July 24 (which will require the closing of East Clay Street between Bronson and Bell from approximately 7:15 to 9:30 p.m. that evening. It was noted that police and fire officials have approved the event.
New Buffalo Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Leslie said the plan is to set up the fireworks staging area on the opposite side of the school building from the multiplex athletic field where commencement is slated to take place (beginning at 7:30 p.m. with the stage set up in the east end zone with the school as a backdrop).
“At the end of the ceremony the fireworks will be going over the top of the high school. We just think that will be a good visual for those kids as they wrap up their careers with us here.”
Leslie wrote to the council that the school district has secured sponsors to pay for the fireworks and has been in discussions with Melrose Pyrotechnics (which has traditionally done the Fourth of July fireworks for the City of New Buffalo).
City Manager David Richards said the concrete blocks installed recently along North Whittaker Street from the base of the Whittaker Street Bridge to the southern edge of the beach parking lot have “held back the Galien River on several occasions since their installation.”
He said the city is now looking at sealing the blocks to make them work better.
Richards said Abonmarche has come up with plans for adding more blocks in two phases — 1. Adding concrete blocks for the entire length of the parking lot; 2. installing blocks from the northern edge of the lot to the stone breakwater jetty. Blocks would be supplied by Ozinga and installed by Burkholder Excavating.
He said the cost for phase 1 would be $7,070, for phase 2 it would be $9,950.
The council on June 15 agreed to go forward with phase 1 (along the parking lot), with shoreline-related issues related to phase 2 to be investigated further.
Richards was optimistic that “in the next two months we will eliminate the water on Whittaker Street, or at least eliminate the holes” in the asphalt.
He said part of the short-term plan is to cover affected area with crushed concrete to provide a smooth path for cars to travel on.
“We’re looking at a number of options and were confident that at least in the short-term we can resolve this issue,” he said.
He said plans and the cost for permanent resolution is being prepared.
“It will require council consideration …. area and how it will be paid for because it’s not inexpensive.”
Curcio said the city has continued to receive complaints about the condition of Marquette Drive from Lions Pavilion Park to the eastern boundary of the city event though it is privately owned and controlled by the property owners in a subdivision known as Wolverine Beach.
He said a proposed contract between the city and “some percentage of the owners within this plat who are responsible for the maintenance of the road” would include having the city repave the road (including a city-owned section near the subdivision), with the owners paying the full costs associated with paving the private portion of Marquette Drive including legal and consulting fees (estimated at about $100,000).
He said the next step would be to send a draft of the contract to 38 (approximately) property owners who would then send signed contracts back to the city with the price per parcel calculated (about $2,500 per owner if all participate, which could be spread out over five years). He added that the staff recommendation was to require that owners representing at least 60 percent of the parcels agree to participate to enter into a contract.
Curcio said since the project would involve private property the city can’t levy an assessment.
Council members discussed the idea, settling on a participation rate goal of 75 percent to go further and agreeing to send the contract proposal to property owners via ceritified mail. Prior to the June 15 meeting, O’Donnell said the council’s June 2 special Zoom meeting had to be discontinued after it was hacked by someone who sued profanity. He said steps have been taken since then to keep it from happening again.
At the end of the meeting council members shared their memories of John Krsul of The Pokagon Fund, who passed away on June 11 (his obituary appears in the Obituaries section of this website).
In other June 15 business, the New Buffalo City Council:
• Unanimously approved a site plan proposal to construct a “shed style patio bar” within an approved outdoor dining area adjacent to the existing structure on the west end at Dooley’s Lake House Pub, 38 N. Whittaker St. The site plan had been OK’d by the Planning Commission earlier the same evening.
• OK’d a Fire Service Agreement with New Buffalo Township after City Fire Chief Chris Huston indicated a lack of manpower in the City’s volunteer Fire Department has led to the township department responding to incidents in the city in conjunction with an existing mutual aid agreement, while the city has been unable to reciprocate.
• Approved a corrected version of a city branch and leaf policy that Richards said sets a reasonable schedule (branch pick-ups on the first Monday of the month April through October and after storms; leaf collection on the second Monday) comparable to those of other communities. He added that employees have the discretion to do more pick-ups and appointments can be made.
• Supported a Brownfield Grant Application for Roundhouse RCJ LLC, owner of the former “Gold’s Gym” property, at cost to the city. The grant if received would cover the cost of cleanup at the site.
• OK’d kayak concession agreements with Third Coast Surf Shop and Outpost to to use the city boat launch, both paying to paying 20 percent of gross to the city. Expected revenues are approximately $12,000.
• Rejected a proposal from the Kona Ice concession at the public beach to reduce its flat fee of
$3,500 by 10 percent of net due to a late start and COVID-19 issues.
• Approved agreements with Seville Investments and The Beer Church for lease and signage at the Whittaker/Buffalo Streets parking lot.
• Approved a Covid 19 Preparedness and Response Plan prepared by Dickinson/Wright in
accordance with the latest Executive Order for staff to review and follow. City Hall remains closed until further notice while responding to previous Orders and is expected to re-open no later than July 15.