Ephraim Shoots Down Workforce-Housing Proposal

A proposal to provide affordable seasonal and year-round housing was shot down by the Ephraim Planning Committee on Tuesday. Jeff Lutsey, a resident of Ephraim who owns two other properties in the village, was hoping to purchase O’Malley’s Inn at the corner of Highway 42 and Moravia, then transform it from transient lodging into workforce housing. 

The project required approval of a change-of-use request from Lutsey. The property is zoned residential, but the use as an inn is grandfathered in as a nonconforming use for a transient commercial rental. The inn contains 14 motel units and one long-term-rental apartment. Lutsey proposed 15 long-term workforce rental units. Long-term-rental apartments fall under multifamily residential zoning in Ephraim ordinance. 

According to Village Administrator Brent Bristol, owners of an existing nonconforming-use property are permitted to substitute a new use for a nonconforming use as long as the committee deems that use to not be materially different from the existing use. 

The committee voted 6-1 against Lutsey’s proposal, with opponents saying it constituted a materially different use from the existing inn. Monique McClean was the only member to vote in favor of the project.

In joining those voting against the proposal, committee chair and village president Mike McCutcheon said, “I think this is a material change. Parking is a problem; the density is too much; and the rooms are too small.”

A housing study conducted in 2018 determined that there is a need for at least 65 workforce rental units in northern Door County, plus 70 seasonal units. Those needs have expanded as many homes that were previously available as long-term rentals have been converted into short-term vacation rentals. 

Many residents and business owners, including Leslie Leline, Chris Janisee and Natalie Nedderson of the Eagle Harbor Inn; Ben McMahon of Czarnuszka Soup Bar; and Scott Schmitz of Noodles and Booze spoke in support of the project and the need for housing for local workers. But many neighbors testified that the change from transient lodging to year-round rentals for resident workers would detract from the residential neighborhood. 

Visit for a complete report on the meeting, and tune in to the Door County Pulse Podcast for further discussion of the issue.