Six months after it was first under consideration, a proposed county ordinance seeking to regulate short-term vacation rentals is back on the agenda.
The Crow Wing County Board is set to consider passage of the ordinance Tuesday, June 9, at its regular meeting. A number of changes were introduced in the latest version, which outlines requirements for annual licensure along with regulations concerning septic systems and solid waste, occupancy, noise, parking and conformity with existing county and state requirements. If passed, the ordinance would not apply until Jan. 1, 2021.
“It is the purpose and intent of this ordinance to regulate short-term rentals within Crow Wing County,” the draft ordinance states. “To continue the allowed use of short term rental units, but also mitigate possible adverse impacts to the health, safety, welfare and quality of life of surrounding properties, as well as water and environmental quality, through the establishment of a licensing program for the review and approval of short-term rental unit operations.”
The ordinance states short-term rentals will not be allowed to operate in the county without an annual license and defines these rentals as “any home, cabin, condominium or similar building that is advertised as, or held out to be, a place where sleeping quarters are furnished to the public on a nightly, weekly, or for less than a 30-day time period and is not a bed and breakfast, resort, hotel or motel.”
In December 2019, an outpouring of opinions came before the county board, showcasing residents’ concerns with implementing an ordinance or the impacts of not doing so. That led to the tabling of the proposal for further review and changes. There is no public comment period or public hearing associated with the newest version of the ordinance.
The public will not be allowed to attend Tuesday’s meeting in person, due to ongoing concerns with the spread of the coronavirus. The meeting will be livestreamed at crowwing.us and on the Crow Wing County YouTube channel. To address the county board, call 218-824-1067 for a Microsoft Teams link and instructions by no later than 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
A working group tasked with reviewing the proposed ordinance made adjustments to several aspects compared to when first presented in December 2019.
The biggest change was the introduction of a sliding fee scale for licensure of vacation rentals based upon the number of bedrooms in the building. The proposal would have owners or authorized agents pay $200 for a two-bedroom property; $300 for three to four bedrooms; $400 for five to six bedrooms; and $500 for six or more bedrooms.
Other major changes related to the expectations of owners or authorized agents responding to complaints and enforcement of noncompliance with the ordinances. Owners are expected to respond to an issue or complaint within one hour of receipt, rather than the original three hours. Contact information for properties will be publicly available on Crow Wing County’s website.
For those making complaints, there are now fines associated with intentionally false reporting — $100 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense, and $1,000 for a third or subsequent offense.
Violating the ordinance remains a misdemeanor offense, if not resolved as directed by county staff. Three substantiated complaints within one year mean’s a vacation rental license is subject to revocation. If the county revokes a license, it will not be reissued for one year from the revocation. The appeals process now includes appealing to the county administrator with the option to appeal the administrator’s decision in district court.
Another change to the original proposal is the removal of the requirement for proof of property liability insurance coverage — commissioners expressed a desire to back away from that provision at their May committee of the whole meeting, leaving that matter instead to the state. Quiet hours were updated to differentiate between weekdays and weekends. The new proposal suggests 10 p.m.-7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and midnight to 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Failure to enforce quiet hours may result in enforcement action, the ordinance notes.
Occupancy requirements were updated to state four people per bedroom plus one additional person per building, rather than specifying four adults. And a provision was added noting parking cannot encroach on neighboring properties.
County board discussion
While acknowledging this year’s uncertainty will likely translate to a “soft” tourism season, Commissioner Bill Brekken said May 19 he thought it was important to move forward with the ordinance.
“One of the platforms I ran on is, I was going to listen to people and be open and hear that,” Brekken said. “ … I think it’s important that when we listen to it, the cities and townships had an issue, the resorts were looking for a level playing field, and we just had no handle on how many were within our county and what they were doing.”
Brekken also pointed to nuisance issues that have arisen over the years associated with short-term vacation rentals.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said her experience discussing this with constituents is different than Brekken’s.
“I’ve based my opinions off a totally different group than you’ve obviously been around, because my people don’t want it,” Franzen said.
Chairman Paul Koering reiterated his opposition to the ordinance, a stance he’s held throughout consideration.
“I don’t even know if anybody is going to be coming up here and vacationing,” Koering said. “Now we’re going to, not only are these people required to pay their property taxes, we’re going to slap on another fee, a licensing fee.”
Commissioner Doug Houge noted his preference to push out an effective date in an effort to give property owners time to prepare.
“These same people we’re talking about, too, are struggling with other larger issues right now,” Houge said. “If we pass this ordinance that doesn’t mean it goes into effect that day. Let’s get through this whole shutdown issue.”
When Brekken asked for the other commissioners’ appetites for accepting additional public comment, Franzen replied, “We’ve been taking public comment for 14 years.”