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Public, city governments weigh in on vacation rental ordinance; county delays vote

The short-term rental ordinance, which went into effect at the beginning of 2021, 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.

Gary Griffin and Jake Frie sit at a table
Land Services Director Gary Griffin, left, and environmental services supervisor Jake Frie answer questions about the county's short-term rental ordinance Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Proposed updates to Crow Wing County’s short-term rental ordinance have yet to be finalized after the County Board unanimously agreed to table the matter Tuesday, Oct. 11, in favor of further research.

Following a public hearing on the changes and at the request of County Attorney Don Ryan, commissioners agreed not to take up a resolution that would reduce occupancy limits and clarify the ability of cities and townships to ban vacation rentals within their jurisdictions. Ryan said more legal research is needed and he expected his staff could finalize that work within two weeks.

The board is expected to discuss the issue again and possibly take action at its Oct. 25 meeting.

What is the ordinance?

The short-term rental ordinance, which went into effect at the beginning of 2021 , 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.

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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.” The current ordinance requires licensed short-term rentals to limit overnight occupancy to four people per bedroom, plus one more person in the unit. The proposed change would reduce the number to three people per bedroom, plus one.

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The ordinance is grounded in the county’s public health authority and its purpose is to “mitigate possible adverse impacts to the health, safety, welfare, and quality of life of surrounding properties, as well as water and environmental quality,” according to the text.

Statistics compiled by the land services department showed a total of 475 active licenses existed this year, an increase of 113 over the number of licenses issued in 2021. Nearly half of these rental properties are in District 2, which includes the vacation destinations of the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and the communities of Crosslake, Breezy Point and Nisswa. Another 27% are in District 5, which covers the northeastern and central portions of the county including the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

Visit arcg.is/1PX0XX for a map of all licensed short-term rentals in Crow Wing County.

Public input

In addition to those who appeared to offer comments in person Tuesday, county staff received a total of 32 written comments submitted during the 30-day public comment period, the majority of which relayed support of the ordinance changes. Many suggested the county go further, establishing more restrictive provisions concerning occupancy, parking, quiet times and the number of rentals per property allowed in a year. One suggestion arising among comments concerned the saturation of short-term rentals, or whether the issuance of licenses should be contingent upon the proximity to others already holding such a license.

Man stands at podium
Deerwood Township resident Mike Aspelin provides comment on the short-term rental ordinance during the Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Some questioned the reasons short-term rental owners are permitted to operate what amounts to businesses in residential areas, whether visitors receive proper education on aquatic invasive species or why neighbors aren’t notified about or allowed to weigh in on a pending license application.

Criticism of the county over its enforcement of the ordinance, described as inconsistent or ineffective based on the commenters’ personal experiences, also appeared in some comments.

“Our experience is we call, we complain, and nothing happens. Over and over,” wrote Mary Goeman, a full-time Crosslake resident who said she lives near a short-term rental property. “After a complaint, the property owner continues to rent and is not forced to have the occupants leave at any time after a complaint. Why aren’t the renters told to leave after a violation?”

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According to land services, the total number of complaints received in 2022 was 55, with 43 of those considered to be regulated by the ordinance. Those 43 complaints concerned a total of 19 rental properties.

Mike Aspelin, a lakeshore property owner in Deerwood Township, asked for an explanation about how the complaint process works, adding 55 seemed like a low number to him.

Environmental services supervisor Jake Frie said staff members work to address complaints as they come into the 24/7 hotline available at 218-824-1132 or online at bit.ly/3MpgYob . They first attempt to contact the property owner or manager and then law enforcement, if applicable.

Bill Brekken and Paul Koering sit at the front of the County Boardroom
Commissioners Bill Brekken, left, and Paul Koering participate in the Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Staff follows up on the back end to substantiate the complaint — the vast majority of which relate to noise — by pairing it with a police report. After three substantiated complaints within a year, the county will revoke a short-term rental license, Frie said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Land Services Director Gary Griffin clarified a complaint made directly to law enforcement about a short-term rental property, without a separate report to the county’s hotline, would not necessarily count as a strike toward the license holder. This means a potentially large number of complaints do not reach the land services department and impact the license status of problematic owners. Griffin said this varies agency to agency. The Crosslake Police Department, for instance, regularly forwards complaints to land services, he said.

“Maybe we could just get a list of all noise complaints and then we can cross-reference that,” Griffin said. “ … That’s what I’m thinking, something like that, even if the property owner didn’t know to call the hotline, to kind of safeguard that it’s getting to us, too. So we can help with the owner, going, ‘Hey, look, what the heck are you doing?’”

County Board - Commissioners 10-11-22.jpg
Commissioners Paul Koering, left, and Doug Houge listen as Commissioner Steve Barrows adds to the conversation on the county's short-term rental ordinance at the Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

City government concerns

During a 30-day public comment period and again Tuesday, representatives of the cities of Breezy Point and Cuyuna expressed disapproval of the county’s approach to licensing short-term rentals without taking local zoning restrictions into account. As it stands, the updated ordinance would include language allowing cities or townships to opt out of the ordinance, but only if short-term rentals are banned from border to border.

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County Board - Public Hearing 3.JPG
Bill Bedard, clerk/treasurer for the city of Cuyuna, offers the city's perspective on the county's short-term rental ordinance Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Cuyuna Clerk/Treasurer Bill Bedard said Tuesday the proposed change does not offer the flexibility of allowing short-term rentals in some zoning districts while disallowing them in others.

According to Bedard, the city hosted three public hearings and the council unanimously voted to enforce its zoning restriction, which does not allow short-term rentals in single-family residential areas. Two such rentals are operating within that zoning district currently and received licenses from the county, which Bedard said is creating confusion over whether city or county regulations take precedence.

“Short-term rentals in a plat or individual properties that are for single-family occupancy, which has long been consistent with the city’s growth plans for those areas, was not part of that consideration,” Bedard said. “I think the county public ordinance and the city zoning ordinance can be inclusive and it can complement each other. The city and the county can be partners in this resolution.”

The city of Breezy Point took a harder stance, with City Administrator David Chanski noting strong objection to the proposed update. Chanski said Tuesday the city has its own ordinance regulating short-term rentals in effect since 2013, allowing operation in some zoning districts but not others. Since the county instituted its own ordinance, however, more than 35 licenses were issued to rental properties in areas where such activity is not permitted by the city, he said.

David Chanski stands at a podium
Breezy Point City Administrator David Chanski provides the city's comments on the county's short-term rental ordinance during the Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“The council does not desire to exclude short-term rentals entirely, but to effectively manage how they operate and where they operate,” Chanski said. “This puts the city in the position of being in constant conflict with Crow Wing County, a position for which the county is solely responsible. … Not even the state of Minnesota is so disrespectful to local control, as the state will inquire with a local unit of government prior to issuing a commercial day care license … and will not issue a secondhand auto dealer’s license without seeking authorization … even when it is not required to.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Griffin said while he relies on the county attorney’s office for advice on how the county’s public health authority and local zoning regulations mesh, an opportunity might exist to include a required form for permit applicants indicating they’ve gained city or township approval.

Griffin said the county’s ordinance never prevented cities from using their own planning and zoning authority to shut down short-term rentals. The “bugaboo,” as Griffin called it, comes in when a property meets the county’s criteria for a license but not the city’s rules.

Still, Griffin said short-term rentals existed in Crow Wing County well before the county ordinance went into effect — it wasn’t the ordinance itself that established these properties.

“When we enacted this, a lot of these short-term rentals were already there in the same zoning (districts) that say they weren’t allowed. So we were asked by a lot of the cities to do one of these. We did it,” Griffin said. “And now it’s an issue because they have short-term rentals in their community where they don’t want them because of this ordinance? No. We didn’t change your planning and zoning. You always have had the authority to shut them down if you wanted to. However, I understand it is a little clunky.”

How to make a complaint

All complaints of violations of the short-term rental ordinance are handled by Crow Wing County’s 24/7 hotline at 218-824-1132 or by filling out an online complaint form. The online form at bit.ly/3MpgYob allows people to upload and submit photo evidence.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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