(New Buffalo, MI) - A proposal to limit the number of short-term rentals in New Buffalo drew a large, fired-up crowd alleging such restrictions would do great harm to the local economy.
Karen Daughty told the New Buffalo Planning Commission on September 16 that she and other small business owners downtown are struggling already without a permanent cap on what brings many visitors to the community.
She said 80-percent of sales at her Designer Cottage Scapes of Harbor County gift store at 112 N. Whittaker St. are from people outside the area, and many of them probably stay in short-term rentals.
“You’re getting ready to put a nail in the coffin for all of the small businesses downtown,” Daughty related.
A moratorium on short-term rentals has been in place for over a year while the city decides how to address a sharp growth in vacation homes.
The Planning Commission did not vote on the measure, which limits the number of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods to the amount that existed and was registered with the city before the end of October.
Planning Commission Chairman Paul Billingslea, who pounded his gavel several times to quiet the vocal crowd, said he was not ready to cast a vote.
“I’m trying to come up with a solution that works for everybody and that’s not easy. Someplace in the middle is where we got to be,” Billingslea explained.
Over 100 people showed up for the meeting, with some forced to go outside and look through windows to watch because of social distancing guidelines.
Whatever the Planning Commission recommends will go to the City Council for a final vote.
Several people against the proposed restrictions expressed anger with Mayor John Humphrey, a member of the City Council.
Humphrey has expressed a desire for restrictions on short-term rentals because the increase in dwellings converted into vacation homes has increased dramatically in recent years.
As a result, fewer homes are available to live in year-round.
The sharp increase in vacation homes is also believed to contribute to skyrocketing property values that cause families with children wanting to live here to purchase more affordable homes elsewhere.
Humphrey believes the key to the city’s future is a more year-round economy driven by an increase in full-time residents like it used to be before tourism here becoming a more dominant force.
He and other city officials are also concerned about unrest in neighborhoods from parties, noise, traffic, and litter generated at some of the vacation homes.
Many opponents of the proposal questioned whether there have been many complaints and felt there are no longer not enough meat and potatoes jobs in areas like manufacturing to support the mayor’s vision.
“The city is business owners, second homeowners, short rental owners, restaurant and beachgoers. Shop, winery, and brewery visitors. It is not just long-term residents. All of us make up this city and contribute to it in some way,” said Diane Gajos, a vacation homeowner.
Jason Milovich, the owner of Blue Fish Vacation Rentals, said the local tourism economy, once vibrant just during the summer, now has a strong heartbeat in the fall.
“This is our identity. Period,” Milovich said.
Heather Gradowski said tourism is also a pulse now virtually year-round because of events and other attractions that draw visitors during the off-season.
Gradowski said she supports “reasonable regulation” of short-term rentals but the ones currently proposed “slowly assures their death” and will also “assure a slow and painful death to this small city. I think we can do better than that.”
Other stipulations of the measure include short-term rental owners having to conform with regulations governing use and renewing their permit within 12 months after expiration to keep the license.
New owners would also have to renew the permit to operate their newly acquired property as a short-term rental.