(New Buffalo, MI) - Short-term rental owners in New Buffalo and their supporters applauded a decision not to cap the number of vacation homes in the popular Lake Michigan tourist community.
They’re still on edge, though, because the final vote has to be cast by the city council.
The council has already identified the rise of short-term rentals as a source of disruption from large parties and population decline in a city with less than 2,000 full-time residents.
“Now, it’s just going to go back to the wolves,” said Jason Milovich, owner of Blue Fish Vacation Rentals in nearby Union Pier.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, full-time residency here was close to 3,000 in 1980. However, estimates place New Buffalo’s population at 20,000 or more during the summer, primarily from second homeowners coming here from the Chicago area.
The New Buffalo Planning Commission on Tuesday did not recommend approval of the proposed cap.
One measure prohibits more vacation rentals anywhere in the city. The other proposal imposes a cap on short-term rentals solely in residential areas.
City Manager Darwin Watson said 88 of the 148 vacation homes registered with the city are in residential neighborhoods while the rest have mixed residential and commercial use.
Planning Commission Chairman Paul Billingslea said he felt “there is a need to do something.” However, he said the current proposals were not fair to the 45 property owners who would not be able to open their doors again right away to vacationers. Billingslea said those property owners on a waiting list to receive a permit under a current temporary moratorium should be grandfathered.
Commission member Bill McCollum suggested letting citizens decide the issue at the polls.
“It’s their town,” McCollum explained.
Mayor John Humphrey, the city council president, feels a cap on short-term rentals would be a good step toward having more of a year economy. In addition, he and other supporters believe it would free up more homes for families with children who would be here to patronize local merchants even during the slow winter months and utilize the public schools.
Opponents believe a cap would drive away enough visitors to hurt downtown merchants who rely on the busy summer traffic to survive. Several lawsuits are expected to be filed against the city if the council approves either one of the current proposals.
Alex Mozlioni and his wife, Joanne, would not be able to take in short-term guests as they have in previous years.
“There are rights at stake here. You can’t do whatever you want,” Mozlioni said.
The city council is expected to take final action at or before its regularly scheduled meeting on October 18.