(New Buffalo, MI) - New Buffalo Mayor John Humphrey said a recent swimming pool fire at a short-term rental is another example of why a cap was placed recently on vacation homes in residential neighborhoods.
According to New Buffalo Police, firefighters on the night of July 8 responded to 112 W. Clay Street on a report of a pool on fire.
Casey Beck, 34, said that a gasoline container was found in the garage of the vacation home while struggling to start a fire in the backyard fire pit, according to the police report.
Beck told investigators the fuel was being poured on what he and the other guests wanted to burn when "a spark came up and caught the gas can on fire." Beck didn't know what to do and, fearing the gasoline container would explode, threw the container into the pool.
The gas can in the pool kept burning after hitting the water.
Beck said water from a garden hose sprayed at the gasoline container didn't put out the flames. Instead, the fire in the can was put out when a police officer arriving first used an extinguisher from his patrol vehicle.
In November, the city council voted not to allow more short-term rental homes in residential neighborhoods. Regulations governing the use of short-term rentals were also adopted.
Officials said the decision was partially in response to a growing number of complaints about loud noise and other disruptions at short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. However, opponents of the cap disputed claims such activity at vacation homes had become a problem.
Humphrey said the fire again illustrates that short-term rentals don't belong in residential neighborhoods and must be regulated as commercial lodging.
"Lodging requires the highest standards of public safety, and no matter how good of a host you think you are, you cannot control the actions of other people," Humphrey said. "To place that dangerous liability on your neighbors who expected the expect the normal standards of quality of life that come with a residential neighborhood is reckless and only goes to show that additional work must be done."
Humphrey said achieving a balance between tourism and how it intersects with residential life and commercial activity is one of the biggest challenges statewide.
He said it's also not fair for municipalities to have to provide the level of public safety demanded from tourism without the ability to generate the additional revenue needed to cover the increased expense.
Humphrey believes the solution would be state lawmakers in Lansing allowing a local tax to be levied to pay for such costs.
"The current model is unsustainable and local residents shouldn't have to live with the fear of the unknown of who is living next to them," Humphrey said.