County invites cities, townships to weigh in on short-term rental regulations again
Crow Wing County commissioners will hear public comments at their next committee of the whole meeting Nov. 15.
BRAINERD — Cities and townships in Crow Wing County will get another opportunity to weigh in on the county’s short-term rental ordinance.
Put into effect in early 2021, the ordinance has garnered much debate over the past couple of years, and county commissioners decided Tuesday, Oct. 25, they needed more input to determine how to move forward. The item will be on the board’s committee of the whole agenda Nov. 15, and representatives from cities and townships will have the opportunity to give their comments.
The ordinance outlines the responsibilities of operators to abide by rules concerning septic systems and solid waste, occupancy, noise, parking and conformity with existing county and state requirements. It also establishes penalties for not resolving complaints.
County Attorney Don Ryan presented the board Tuesday with proposed ordinance changes, including a clause making any short-term rental license from the county null and void if it is in a location where it is not permitted by the local jurisdiction, meaning a county permit would not hold up if the city or township does not permit short-term rentals through its city code.
“I know that the request from several of the cities or municipalities is that they want us to basically send anyone that we’re going to consider licensing for under our public health authority to them and get prior approval,” Ryan said, noting some municipalities wanted to be the final authority on the licensing.
“That’s not something I’d recommend. I just don’t think all the municipalities would work the same way,” he continued. “I think that puts a heck of a burden on our staff, particularly the way in which this is functioning right now.”
The ordinance is grounded in the county’s public health authority, and while cities and townships may adopt ordinances related to public health, those ordinances cannot be in conflict with or be less restrictive than county ordinances. For this reason, making changes to allow cities and townships to opt in to the ordinance applying in their jurisdictions is not possible. These local governments could opt out, however — as long as they’ve established a jurisdiction-wide ban on short-term rental properties.
Commissioner Paul Koering, who was against the ordinance in the beginning, said if each city or township wants to have their own set of rules for rentals, they should be allowed to.
“Let their police departments respond to any complaints that they might have,” he said. “And so I’m still one that, I think we should get out of the short-term licensing ordinance business. I guess if I knew there was a second, I would make a motion to get rid of the ordinance today.”
Koering did, in fact, make that motion later in the meeting. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen seconded it and voted in favor along with Koering, but the three other commissioners — Doug Houge, Bill Brekken and Steve Barrows — voted against it.
Franzen said she doesn’t feel the ordinance is working as written.
“One of my biggest problems with this ordinance is the fact that we’re relying on neighbors to report on the other neighbors,” she said. “I do not like that at all, and as long as that is in this ordinance, I will never vote for it. It’s just — it’s not right. I mean, people can call the sheriff, and he could come out there, but to call the owner who doesn’t even live there just doesn’t seem to work.”
The portion of the ordinance Franzen referenced states county officials will investigate any complaints against short-term rentals and alleged violations of the ordinance and will follow up with the owner or owner’s authorized agents.
Brekken said his worry with Ryan’s proposed updates to the ordinance is people might open the rental after obtaining a permit from the county without checking with the local jurisdiction.
Ryan said another option is to base the ordinance on the county’s land use authority instead of public health. That means the ordinance would only apply to cities and townships for which the county provides zoning services and not those who have their own land use ordinance. This change would also mean Breezy Point, where officials have strongly opposed the ordinance, would be exempt. Breezy Point City Administrator David Chanski previously chastised the board for putting the city in constant conflict with the county, as the city has had its own short-term rental ordinance since 2013 and allows their operation in some but not all districts, whereas the county’s ordinance allows them in areas the city does not.
From a recent survey, Land Services Director Gary Griffin said there looks to be many cities and townships that, like Breezy Point, want to regulate short-term rentals themselves, while there are still some that want the county to handle it, which makes the board’s decision tough.
If the board were to decide to use its land use authority instead of public health, Griffin said there’s a possibility the county could draft agreements with entities that still want the county’s assistance with certain services, though he is not yet 100% certain the county would be able to do that.
County Administrator Tim Houle said part of the problem is the multitude of options in front of board members. They must decide if they want to use their regulatory authority countywide, he said, and still have the option to table the measure and think about it more, pass Ryan’s proposed revisions, direct staff to prepare other revisions or repeal it altogether.
After Koering made a motion to repeal the ordinance, Brekken said he wanted the opportunity to have more conversations with those in his district, which includes the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and the communities of Crosslake, Nisswa and Breezy Point, where nearly half of the county’s rental properties with licenses issued in 2021 lie.
“We were hoping that we could come to some agreement where I think that the cities that wanted to opt out could opt out and do that or have stronger ordinances that would be stronger than what our initial is,” Brekken said. “... I think we have to have more discussions.”
Houge agreed with Koering and Franzen’s opinion the current model was not working but asked if the county would be creating a mess by not having any ordinance at all.
Barrows said he wanted more information about what it would look like to move from public health to land use authority.
Commissioners ultimately agreed to put the measure on their agenda for the next committee of the whole meeting Nov. 15 and invite cities and townships to give feedback. Houle advised them they would likely get a mixed bag of feedback, which is what they already have, but said he would get notice out as soon as possible.