NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council on Aug. 31 extended the moratorium on the issuance of new short-term rental licenses to Nov. 1, 2021.

The 4-0 vote during a special meeting amended a resolution (2020-11, originally passed in May 2020) with the following language:

A RESOLUTION TO EXTEND THE EXISTING MORATORIUM ON THE REGISTRATION OF SHORT-TERM RENTAL UNITS IN THE CITY OF NEW BUFFALO THROUGH NOVEMBER 1

WHEREAS, on May 18, 2020, the City Council adopted a resolution imposing a temporary moratorium on the acceptance of new short-term rental registrations in certain areas of the city in order to allow further study and development of possible ordinance amendments; and

WHEREAS, on June 15, 2020, the City Council amended the moratorium to provide a number of exceptions to protect the investment-backed expectations of property owners who made substantial investments in prospective rental properties prior to the moratorium’s effective date; and

WHEREAS, on December 21, 2020, the City Council extended the length of the moratorium so that it is now set to expire on September 18, 2021; and

WHEREAS, since the moratorium has been in effect, the City has made substantial progress in studying the various issues relating to short-term rentals and developing a new package of proposed regulations; and

WHEREAS, the city has already adopted substantial amendments to Chapter 11 of the City Code to better regulate short-term rentals, and is in the process of considering a related amendment to the zoning ordinance, which is set for public hearing at the Planning Commission on September 16, 2021; and

WHEREAS, the City Council wishes to allow sufficient time to complete its consideration of the proposed zoning amendment, and to allow such amendment to take effect before the moratorium expires.

NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council resolves as follows:

A. The moratorium imposed on May 18, 2020, as amended thereafter, is hereby extended until November 1, 2021.

The City Council also voted 4-0 on Aug. 31 to accept a proposal from Houseal Lavigne Associates to conduct a Zoning Ordinance review and update for the city at a cost of $49,840 (the lowest of four bids).

City Manager Darwin Watson said New Buffalo’s Zoning Ordinance was adopted on Aug. 14, 2001, and amended on Sept. 17, 2013 (with further amendments added as the city deemed necessary).

“Due to the fact that laws and conditions are ever-changing, it is a recommended best practice for a government with zoning authority to review and update its zoning ordinance at least every year or two. This reduces legal risk by staying current with the law,” he said.

And the council agreed to request that the Planning Commission review and recommend amending Chapter 11 of the city’s Zoning Ordinance.

City Manager Darwin Watson said during the moratorium the city has made progress in developing a modified set of regulations, and implementing a strategy for short-term rentals and city-wide code enforcement, as well as beginning the process of data collection.

“In order to achieve the ultimate termination of the moratorium, several steps and guidelines need to be implemented. Of utmost importance is work needed from the Planning Commission to amend the city’s zoning ordinance.”

A draft version of “AN ORDINANCE TO AMEND SECTIONS 2-3, 6-2, 7-2, AND 8-2, AND ADD A NEW SECTION 20-8 TO THE NEW BUFFALO ZONING ORDINANCE TO PROHIBIT NEW SHORT-TERM RENTALS IN THE R-1, R-2, AND R-3 ZONING DISTRICTS” that was part of the packet for the Aug. 31 special meeting included the following language:

WHEREAS, in April 2019, the City Council adopted an ordinance requiring the registration and inspection short-term rental units within the City; and

WHEREAS, since enacting the ordinance, City staff has studied the registration statistics and the density of short-term rentals; and

WHEREAS, after extensive study of the proliferation and effects of short-term rental uses, the City Council has determined that if current trends were allowed to continue, short-term rental uses could undermine the character and stability of neighborhoods in certain districts by, among other things:

1. Decreasing the number of long-term residents; 2. Decreasing enrollment in local schools;

3. Decreasing the availability of long-term housing stock, thereby driving up prices and making long- term residency less affordable;

4. Creating significant numbers of vacant homes in the winter months; and

5. Increasing levels of noise, traffic, and on-street parking during the summer tourist season.

WHEREAS, in a series of recent cases, Michigan courts have recognized that transitory and commercial uses are in tension with the traditional use of single-family dwellings; and

WHEREAS, the City Council has determined that it is in the best interest of the City to amend the zoning ordinance to curb the proliferation of short-term rental uses in certain zoning districts characterized by single-family residential neighborhoods, and to otherwise mitigate potential adverse effects of new short- term rentals.

Prior to the votes (and a closed session to discuss two lawsuits with counsel), the City Council heard from a parade of 18 citizens during the public comment period. All but one spoke in favor of lifting the moratorium or were critical of the city’s handling of the short-term rental issue.

These included:

• Diane Gajos, who said “here we are at the 11th hour, Aug. 31st, and you elect to throw another wrench into our lives.”

• Heather Gradowski called the extension “overreach masquerading as giving the council time to let the Planning Commission review zoning.” She noted that planners had recommended in July to lift the moratorium in the R-2 and R-3 districts.

• Jason Milovich told the council that many people he has talked to are really wanting to rent their homes and following the rules. He also asked for one information on “how bad everything is” according to data that has been collected but not released.

“This town was founded by second homeowners. Our lifeblood has always been tourism,” said Bart Goldberg, adding that these tourists “want to stay in our beautiful homes.” He later said it’s time to stop the bleeding by letting the moratorium expire.

• Ron Watson voiced support for the City Council’s attempts find a balanced approach to the short-term rental issue. “I think you’re doing the right thing.”

At the conclusion of the special meeting, Mayor John Humphrey said the city has to manage its tourism or face anarchy. Humphrey said he’s not against short-term rentals, but the city must work to create the best possible outcome for everyone including long-term residents.

In another Aug. 31 matter, the City Council OK’d an application from the New Buffalo Business Association to hold the Harvest and Wine Festival on North Whittaker Street in downtown New Buffalo Oct. 9 (pending the situation with the COVID pandemic).

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