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City Won’t Impose Restrictions on Tourist Rooming Houses, For Now

The Sturgeon Bay Plan Commission decided not to impose new restrictions on Tourist Rooming Houses (TRH) within the city that people generally rent for short-term stays through online platforms such as Vrbo and Airbnb. 

The city’s zoning code allows these short-term rentals with a permit that must be renewed after the first year, with renewals valid for two years. The city’s Community Development Department issues and monitors the permits, and the owner/operator must reside in Door, Brown or Kewaunee county.

The City of Sturgeon Bay had 65 TRH permits as of May, when the last report was run, according to Christopher Sullivan-Robinson, Sturgeon Bay planner and zoning administrator. The majority of those are located in residential areas, use online marketplace platforms for rental business and operate year-round. 

Some Sturgeon Bay Plan Commission members opined that TRHs are negatively affecting affordable housing and traditional lodging. They had asked city staff to look into options for more regulation. After reviewing the data and receiving legal advice from the city attorney, city staff said the current ordinance works well and recommended no changes.

“There have been no issues” for nuisances, noise or being out of compliance, Sullivan-Robinson said during the Plan Commission’s meeting last month. “This is a big issue in a lot of other areas, mainly larger communities. Those issues we’re seeing in other communities, we’re not seeing here with misuse or noncompliance. So at the moment, we don’t see the need for any change. But maybe look at it in the future.”

Nevertheless, staff presented options for the commission members to consider if they still wanted to impose additional requirements. The most restrictive of those options would impose a minimum rental stay of seven days and would cap at 180 the number of days the unit could be rented over the course of a year. 

The topic drew to last month’s meeting one Zoom participant, one in-person participant and numerous letters. They all said the same thing: There had been no issues, and TRHs provided advantages to the city in the form of taxes and tourism dollars.

“This is one of those that looks like a solution looking for a problem,” said Mayor David Ward in his role as chair of the Plan Commission.

A couple Plan Commission members thought that clarifying expectations without impacting TRH owners/operators would be beneficial. They invoked the Village of Egg Harbor’s TRH ordinance, provided by Sullivan-Robinson, as an example that addressed noise and the number of occupants, for example.

Kirsten Reeths, an alder and Plan Commission member, said she was concerned that first-time home buyers are being elbowed out of the market by buyers of potential short-term-rental properties who are snapping up the affordable housing stock. Alder Dennis Statz, also on the Plan Commission, agreed that TRHs are an issue, with many of the existing permits issued to “little, two-bedroom houses taken off the market.”

Though Statz didn’t advocate changes now, he said “the issue is going to come back.”

The Plan Commission unanimously accepted the Community Development Department staff’s recommendation to make no changes at this time.

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