Sevastopol Ordinance Attempts to Stem Future STR Growth

As of March 2023, according to DCTZC data, Sevastopol had 81 licensed STRs, listed as privately owned homes, cabins and cottages.

The rules have changed for short-term-rental (STR) properties operating within the Town of Sevastopol after July 1.

The Sevastopol Town Board passed an ordinance April 17 that will not allow STRs to be rented for fewer than seven days unless the property owner – the person or people using the property as their primary residence – “remains at the short-term rental through the night and does not reside elsewhere when transient guests have reserved the short-term rental,” according to the newly amended ordinance.

“A property owner must permanently reside at the residence if they are going to be a short-term-rental offering,” said Linda Wait, town board supervisor and chair of the town’s Plan Commission, during the April 17 meeting.

An individual can have only one primary residence and it means, according to the amended ordinance, that it’s the individual’s “true, fixed and permanent home for at least 183 days in a calendar year and where an individual receives mail, claims residence for purposes of voter registration, pays for utilities, and lists as their address on state issued identification cards.” 

STRs that were licensed and in good standing prior to July 1, 2023, will be able to continue renting the property as was allowed under the previous ordinance: for fewer than seven days, but rentals may not begin until at least seven days after the first day of the preceding rental, unless the subsequent rental was for a period of at least seven consecutive days. 

81 STRs Operate within Sevastopol
By state statute, STRs are residential dwellings that are rented for fewer than 29 consecutive days, generally through online lodging marketplaces such as Airbnb and Vrbo. Since the ordinance was adopted in July 2021, all STRs in Sevastopol are required to get a license from the town. This is in addition to obtaining required licenses from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and from the Door County Tourism Zone Commission (DCTZC), which collects the 8% room tax and distributes 70% to Destination Door County, while returning 30% of the 8% tax to the municipality where it was collected. 

Purpose of the Ordinance

Multiple purposes of the town’s ordinance were listed when it was first passed in July 2021, with providing minimum standards for health and safety, and protecting the character and stability of neighborhoods with the town among them. Added to those in the amended ordinance is “ensuring adequate workforce housing for year-round residents.”

“The focus is to try and reduce the issue of no housing,” town board chair Dan Woelfel told the Peninsula Pulse a couple of days following the April 17 meeting. 

The amended ordinance would achieve that, Woelfel said, by making the town a less attractive place to establish new STRs after July 1, 2023. 

Revisions That Apply to All STRs

Other aspects of the ordinance that were tweaked or clarified for all STRs in the amended ordinance pertain to items such as fireworks (state regulated), ADA compliance (federally regulated), off-street parking and garbage and recycling. 

In addition, if the property owner has a resident agent – a person who is authorized to act on behalf of the property owner – that resident agent must reside within Door County; be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and respond within 45 minutes of any complaints about STR guests. 

Another change was made to notification requirements: STR property owners must give notification of their license to operate to all neighbors within 400 feet, rather than the 200-foot requirement in the previous ordinance.

Finally, an existing license becomes void and a new application is required anytime a change of ownership occurs to a person who is not “a spouse of the property owner; the issue of the property owner (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and lineal descendants); a trust created for the benefit of the property owner; or an entity of which the property owner holds at least 51% of the voting interest.” 

Reaction during the Town Board Meeting

Seven people in the audience spoke during the meeting. Three of them supported the ordinance, saying the changes were sensible and would protect residential neighborhoods, quality of life and workforce housing for residents. 

Four people spoke against the property-owner requirement, one of whom was a member of the STR group Home Hosts of Door County. Those who opposed the amendment called it “overreach” and said few STR properties are set up to accommodate property owners staying on the premises with renters. 

“We feel this is another way to reach an apparent goal to eliminate a legal enterprise,” said STR owner Annie Kolterjahn, one of the owners of an STR on Glidden Drive that the town fined earlier this year for overcapacity issues.

Kolterjahn explained that they had operated their STR for 10 years prior to the ordinance and never had a problem. Since the ordinance was created in 2021, they have felt “singled out and penalized” for a variety of issues related to their septic system, parking, noise and campfires. She said they are “business owners” and are trying to be good neighbors and are in the process of retiring to another property on Glidden Drive.

“This is our community,” Kolterjahn said. “This is our town, and we care deeply about what happens.”

She also said the ordinance has caused problems among neighbors. They have experienced neighbors trespassing on their STR property, taking photos of their friends and minor children, to an extent that caused them to call the Sheriff’s Office and file a report.

“Residents are breaking the law to enforce an ordinance, which has no protection for the homeowners,” Kolterjahn said.

She also asked for clarification on ADA compliance and volunteered to help the town make the language more useful for STR owners.

Woelfel responded that STRs are a business, and the town is regulating a business through a license out of concern for the town’s 2,803 residents, in addition to the 81 STRs. 

“We are appreciative of what the short-term rentals have done for us from a financial perspective; this town hall is one of them,” he said. “But that does not mean that we want to leave it go to the opposite end of the spectrum. Which is, we do not desire to become the home of all short-term rentals in the state. Nor do we desire to be the home of all storage buildings in Door County. Some of those things we do try to limit to some extent to make sure that our residents get to enjoy the surroundings as much as you and the people who rent from you.”

A Unanimous Vote

The town’s Plan Commission has been working on the ordinance amendments since January.

“I’ve been to all [those] meetings,” said supervisor Derek Denil, “and I haven’t seen many people come and ask questions and provide input, so to have [people give it] all on one night [April 17] is a little astounding, to say the least. I’m totally in agreement with the amendment.”

Supervisor Mark Haen said he was “not a huge fan” of the owner-occupied requirement, and supervisor Jeanne Vogel said it was a tough vote, but the supervisors did vote unanimously in favor of the amended ordinance.

“I believe that when you buy a home in a residential area – I sold real estate for a long time – you expect a residential area,” Vogel said, and not a “boutique hotel next door.”

Related Organizations