NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council listened to more than an hour of public comment on a proposed revised short-term rental ordinance during a Jan. 28 special meeting before council members decided to review the current document and make their own suggestions over the next two weeks.

The Ordinance to Amend Chapter 11 of the New Buffalo City Code of Ordinances (which covers Short-Term Rental Units) was originally slated to be an official first reading, but that was soon changed to a discussion and public comment session as the Jan. 28 session got under way.

The City originally adopted Chapter 11 of its Code of Ordinances placing restrictions on Short Term Rental Units and requiring licensing in April of 2019.

The public comments portion of the meeting included the following:

• Dan Coffey said parking is an issue and the proposed occupancy limit of 10 seems much to low. He also asked who wrote the proposal.

Mayor John Humphrey said he, Interim City Manager Rich Killips and the city attorney incorporated prior work by the Planning Commission, the previous City Council, the city attorney and an Oct. 12 workshop involving planners and council members. Humphrey added that he has met with vacation rental owners and had numerous individual conversations on the matter.

• John Natsis said he wanted to have the timeline explained (Humphrey said the council will have the next two weeks to discuss various points further to get to a first read at its Feb. 15 meeting).

Natsis said the city has been through two seasons with the current ordinance and is now ready to add new requirements and restrictions, which he said reflects an abject failure of enforcement for those two seasons.

He also questioned the draft proposal that an owner of more than one short-term rental unit must employ a local agent from a business with a short-term rental management permit.

“Unless I’m reading this incorrectly it sounds like you’re saying that if I happen to own two properties I can’t rent them myself … I’d like an explanation on why you feel that owning one or even 21 properties has anything to do with how well they are managed.”

Humphrey said the point of the ordinance is “to be able to manage the people who are renting illegally.” He later said “we have a lot of people who are refusing to obey the law.”

• Jason Milovich said “overreaching” would be the word he would use for a lot of the proposal. He mentioned the maximum occupancy going from 14 to 10 and said “all this that’s been drafted” seems pointed at people who are renting legally.

• Henry Arana questioned what the cost of the new rules will be, mentioning a figure of $290,000.

Humphrey said he doesn’t think it will quite be that high — “$200,000 is around where we’re at … we can’t charge more than it costs to administer the program.”

• Heather Gradowski said some of the requirements in the proposal would place an undue burden on property managers, adding that the requirement that an applicant have at least three employees would not work for her.

“My company is literally just me.”

“The changes to this ordinance seem very focused on requiring owners to have a management company in place and I understand the reasoning behind that … but I really want to make it clear to the public that those of us in the rental management community are not trying to drive people to that or trying to create a self-serving ordinance … we want what’s best for our community,” Gradowski said.

In response to a question posed during the public comments period, Humphrey said he expects the moratorium on the issuance of new licenses to continue until the end of this summer.

“The problem is that we have to be able to handle 150-some-odd illegal rentals before we start letting everybody just register for a permit because we have to figure out the cost to administrate the current rentals that we have,” he said.

• Joanne Moskovic said if the amendment is approved, why not lift moratorium before the end of summer? She said otherwise the city is essentially blocking everybody out “until you guys figure it out.”

• Laura Murray said the moratorium is preventing her from renting a home that she may have to sell. She called the moratorium a bit of an infringement on the rights of property owners.

• Dan Saunders said he feels the document as it now reads puts an undue burden on the property managers, not the individual property owners. He also said he appreciates the city keeping the public involved in the discussion.

• Talia Edwards said she would prefer to see some sort of an appeals board as opposed to the one hearing officer that is called for in the current proposal.

• William Lenga said he has spent a great deal of money and employed local people after buying foreclosed property, and has received five-star ratings from guests and never had a complaint. “How is that I’ve become an irresponsible person?”

He said it’s “nonsense” to claim that owners don’t care about their property. He said the proposed ordinance appears to be attempting to shift the policing burden for behavior of renters to owners of the property, adding that the notion that he is supposed to have policing power over another human being is “incomprehensible to me.”

• Augie Hernandez, a self-described 10 year resident, said he knows it’s a beach town and there are going to be people who rent here, but he invited those who don’t think there’s a problem to come over to his house in the summer to listen to what he has to listen to. “I have partiers basically every weekend at a house across the street from me that do not abide by the rules.”

• Michael Holevas asked how can a property management company can have short-term renters comply with what is being proposed more than a homeowner would, and wondered who would pay the fines. He said there already are people signed up for rentals at the end of 2021 and asked if fees paid to AirBNB will be reimbursed. He also mentioned the possibility of a cap on how much a property management company can charge.

• David Whitehead said the city passed an ordinance a couple years ago that he thought was supposed to take care of this, adding that he doubts applying more rules will fix the problem.

“It sounds like … we need to go after more the people that aren’t registered based off the existing rules we have as opposed to just throwing new rules on top of new rules.”

• Jorge Alberez said the proposed regulations would crush the small business owner and push everybody to big management companies and create an underground market, adding that he thinks it would boost tourism to let new vacation rentals come in.

• Bart Goldberg said he is delighted that this will not be the first reading and would suggest the initial revisions be limited to only addressing the non-licensed people.

“This draft goes way beyond your stated initial objective as it contains ill-considered positions that harm both year-round residents and second homeowners alike. The most egregious position is the reduction of occupancy from 14 down to 10,” he said.

The Zoom meeting was capped at 100 people, which apparently left some unable to comment. It was recommended that the city look into expanding that limit the next time an issue such as short-term rentals comes up.

Once the council began discussing the ordinance proposal, which Humphrey said contains rules designed “for us all to move forward … on how to fix this problem,” he showed a map reflecting the “high rental density” of permitted rental units in different parts of the city — about half of what is believed to actually exist.

“The amount of people from the granted occupancy of just the permits is 1,556. And if we double that for all the suspected rentals you’re looking at over 3,000 people on any weekend that are coming into these homes. If they came two to a car, that’s 1,500 cars we’re bringing into town.”

Council member Mark Robertson said he hadn’t seen the language of the proposed ordinance until 24 hours before the special meeting and said he doesn’t feel he has had the proper time to evaluate the document.

Member Lou O’Donnell IV said he didn’t have any input into the proposal and said he feels left in the dark. He also noted that the proposal doesn’t include a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed (City Attorney Nick Curcio said he feels that aspect of regulation should come from the city’s Zoning Ordinance).

Ultimately it was agreed to table the discussion and have each member of the council review the proposed ordinance themselves and send suggestions and comments to Killips prior to the February City Council meeting so a “first read” could be possible during that session.

In other Jan. 28 business, the New Buffalo City Council:

• Approved crack-seal coating more than half of the asphalt lot at the boat ramp and re-striping all of the lot for a cost not to exceed $25,000.

• Discussed replacing the city’s 2016 John Deere Tractor and a beach rake (which reportedly have been getting stuck in fresh sand on the beach) for an all-in-one machine known as a Beach Tech 5500 before agreeing to seek bids on the current equipment and see if the amount offered could be used to help purchase the new machine.

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