NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council OK’d a temporary freeze on the approval of new short-term rental properties while a revised ordinance is worked out during its Monday, May 18, regular meeting (held virtually using the Zoom app).
City Attorney Nicholas Curcio said other communities dealing with a proliferation of rental properties have used strategies such as spacing regulations (establishing a distance between such buildings); limiting new registrations either city-wide, by zoning district, or by certain characteristics of the house; or setting a hard cap on the number of rental properties.
“My understanding is there’s currently around 150 registered, lawfully operating short-term rentals in the city of New Buffalo,” he said.
Curcio added that some communities, after figuring out a maximum number that would be a good fit, establish by ordinance that once that number is reached no new rentals will be approved.
He said the process of coming up with a short-term rental policy can take quite a bit of time (6 to 8 months is not uncommon) as both planning commissions and councils/boards deal with the issue.
Curcio said municipalities sometimes will freeze the existing number of short-term rentals in place while working on a long-term answer.
The City Council ended up approving just such a moratorium on accepting new short-term rental applications, to be in effect for eight months, or until the council adopts a revised ordinance. The vote was 5-0.
Concerns expressed in the moratorium motion include: That further increases in short-term rentals in certain areas could undermine that character and civility of neighborhoods by decreasing the number of long-term residents, decreasing enrollment in local schools, decreasing the availability of long-term housing stock thereby driving up prices, creating a significant number of vacant homes in the winter, and increasing levels of noise, traffic and on-street parking during the summer.
Curcio said existing rentals would be allowed to continue and the city could still process applications submitted before the moratorium takes effect.
“The purpose of this is not to create a permanent prohibition on short-term rentals, it’s just to freeze the status quo in place whle the city determines what type of new regulations, if any, it wants to pursue,” he said.
Curcio added that once permanent regulations are in place the moratorium would be lifted and new applications would be subject to the new regulations.
Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV said the process of devising a new policy will allow for plenty of time to talk with local rental companies including representatives of the Harbor Country Vacation Rental Association and the community.
“This way everybody’s included, it’s plenty of time, and we’ll have as many meetings as we need to,” he said.
O’Donnell also said the city also is investigating unregistered short-term rentals in the city.
Also on May 18, the City Council approved a Consent Judgment Agreement with Roger’s Wrecker Service.
Under the agreement, Roger’s Wrecker Service (described in the agreement as a Michigan corporation affiliated with defendant Lijewski and Sons Automotive, LLC) will continue to operate a car repair and towing business at 742 S. Whittaker St. under terms of the Consent Judgment, which will not be in effect until a new Lijewski and Sons Automotive “heavy towing operation” is open in New Buffalo Township or on July 21, 2020, “whichever is earlier.”
The New Buffalo Township Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. June 2 (via Zoom) on a request by Roger’s Wrecker Service for a Special Land Use to operate a Towing and Salvage Business at 10271 U.S. 12, New Buffalo.
According to information on the Consent Agreement provided during the May 18 City Council meeting, in 2017, Defendant Lijewski and Sons Automotive acquired an adjacent parcel at 800 S. Whittaker St. (the site of a vacant restaurant building) and expanded their business operations onto that parcel.
Curcio said on May 18 that the city subsequently filed a zoning enforcement action against Roger’s Wrecker Service, the case was sent to mediation, and a settlement agreement in concept was reached and approved by the council during its Jan. 27 meeting.
He said the action taken May 18 is the final approval of a consent judgment agreement that will be submitted to the court.
Under the terms of the proposed judgment, the adjacent parcel at 800 South Whittaker will no longer be used as part of the business (he noted that it would have to be rezoned to do so).
Curcio said the towing service and repair service that constitutes Roger’s Wrecker business will be allowed to continue on the site of the physical repair building as well as in a portion of the adjacent Tulacz Street right-of-way (as a fenced-in area behind the main building, allowed by a a license from the city). The Consent Agreement stipulates the facility be used for the repair of “automobiles and pickup trucks only” and towing of “automobiles and pickup trucks only and no
semi-trucks or trailers.” “The orderly impoundment of vehicles” also is allowed.
The Consent Agreement defines “automobile” as a passenger vehicle designed for 10 or fewer passengers, including but not limited to sedans, station wagons, mini-vans, vans
and sport utility vehicles.
Curcio said there are rules for parking up to six vehicles in front of the building and additional parking next to the facility for customer drop-off parking (the only way cars can be parked overnight).
Although two tow trucks can be kept at the 742 South Whittaker property, they are to be parked in the fenced-in area when not in use.
The Consent Agreement also states: “Heavy-duty towing, including the towing of semi-trucks and trailers, is strictly prohibited on the parcel at 742 S. Whittaker Street and within the Tulacz Street right-of-way.”
Also on May 18, City Council members were told of plans for the New Buffalo Farmers Market, slated to begin June 19, by Abby Voss of the New Buffalo Buffalo Business Association (NBBA).
She said the plan is to set up a drive-through curbside pick-up market along Merchant Street from North Whittaker to Thompson Street from 9 to 11 a.m. Friday mornings.
Voss said vendors would be set up on the left side of the road in the sidewalk area, with shoppers picking up items from the left-side parking spaces.
“It wouldn’t conflict with traffic,” she added.
Police Chief Rich Kilips said he doesn’t see any issues with the Farmers Market plan.
Voss said market vendors will be set up for e-commerce so they can take orders from shoppers who will remain in their vehicles. She said NBBA board members will greet shoppers to validate orders and keep traffic flowing.
Voss said the 2020 New Buffalo Farmers Market will be “a drive-through highlighting what our farmers have” that will be promoted on the NBBA’s social media and website as well as the Farmers Market website.
The City Council voted 5-0 to approve the New Buffalo Farmers Market proposal.
In another May 18 matter, following a public hearing, the council approved a 2020-2021 fiscal year budget and agreed to levy 10.2232 mills of property taxes for operational purposes and .4575 mills for parks.
The council went over the budget proposal on depth during a May 14 special meeting.
Projected 2020-2021 General Fund revenues in the requested budget are $3,266,445 (2019-20 projected activity totals $3,243,459).
Projected 2020-2021 General Fund total appropriations in the requested budget are $3,218,952 — $47,493 in the positive (2019-20 projected appropriations activity is $2,949,168.
The expected Fund Balance for the 2020-21 requested budget is $1,900,034.
Treasurer Kate Vyskocil and council members went over all of the budget’s funds (including Water, Sewer, Major and Local Streets, and the Parks Fund).
Vyskocil also presented the following statement to the council: “In 2019 the City developed a two-year budget to better forecast and plan for future expenditures. The upcoming 2020-21 budget was reviewed at the budget hearing last year. However, some adjustments to the budget have been incorporated, subject to council approval, in response to the economic impact and increasing expenses associated with high lake levels and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Revenues. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortfalls in revenues for the upcoming 2020-21 budget year are expected. The funds anticipated to be most impacted by the pandemic are the Major and Local Street funds (which are funded by the state gas tax), and the LRSB Fund (funded by revenue sharing from the casino).”
In other May 18 business, the New Buffalo City Council:
• Approved a new Branch and Leaf Policy (20-21) that includes the following: Branch pick up service is for storm damage and minor yard cleanup; Branches will be picked up the first Monday of each month April through October and as necessary after storms; Branches can be no longer than 10 feet and 6 inches in diameter. Piles can be no higher than 3 feet and no wider than 4 feet.; Owners and contractors are responsible for disposal of stumps and trees; Leaves will be picked up the second Monday of each week in April and the second week in October through November; Leaves must not be left in the street; Contractors are responsible for the leaves they generate. Call City Hall to schedule special pickups: (269) 469-1500.
• Accepted a low bid of $20,575.83 from CDWG (and a $4,000.00 labor bid from Edge IT) to replace the City’s main server and essential IT equipment. It was reported that the server has routinely failed to operate compromising data and even halting operations.
• Supported a formal application to The Pokagon Fund for $110,000 in funding to pay a portion of proposed Dune Walk improvements. City Manager David Richards said the Dune Walk structure has reached the end of its functional life and has become unsafe for future use, adding that city staff have developed a plan to rehabilitate the existing dune structure as well as build a separate accessible walkway into the dunes creating dune access to persons of all abilities. He also said the city has been approved for a Land and Water Conversation Fund Grant in the amount of $220,000 to renovate and expand the Dune Walk along the community’s waterfront to pay for half of the estimated $440,000 project cost (the project is expected to be completed by Memorial Day 2021).
• Agreed to appropriate all funds necessary to complete a Marquette Greenway trailhead project which has been awarded a $112,500 grant from the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources which will be matched by $37,500 in local funding from The Pokagon Fund.
After wishing everyone a happy Memorial Day O’Donnell said “it’s unfortunate we’re not able to do our parade this year.”