Sevastopol Passes STR Ordinance

Nasewaupee, Gibraltar looking to follow Liberty Grove’s lead

After a year of discussion and much debate, the Town of Sevastopol passed its short-term rental (STR) ordinance with a restriction in place that limits to once per week the number of times a property owner can rent the property.

The limit on the allowable rentals per week was designed to promote neighborhood character and stability by limiting a constant churn of new renters. STR owners have said the requirement would slash their incomes, as well as the incomes of people who maintain rental properties for a living, such as cleaning companies.

“We’re certainly disappointed they kept in the six-day restriction, but we’re also pleased they made changes to their ordinance,” said Janet Slater with the Door County Vacation Rental Association (DCVRA).

That included lowering the annual application fee from $500 to $300 for the initial license and making pet restrictions more reasonable. 

“The vast majority of the ordinance is really good if you want to make sure STRs are good neighbors,” Slater said.

Sevastopol’s ordinance will go into effect July 1, 2022.

STRs are residential dwellings that are rented for fewer than 29 consecutive days, generally through online lodging marketplaces such as Airbnb and Vrbo. These homes, cabins and cottages rented to tourists continue to multiply as their popularity rises. STR availability in Door County increased 51.48% from 2009 to 2020, and as of May 2021, about 1,500 units in Door County fell into the STR category. 

Of the ordinances being considered or that have passed to date, all share similarities in seeking to ensure that the proprietors of these residences-turned-rentals work with their renters to remain good neighbors through regulating noise, parking, trash and pets, for example. Occupancy maximums that protect groundwater resources by not overloading a private, on-site wastewater-treatment system are also standard, as are the requirements that STR owners have the required license from the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the required permit from the Door County Tourism Zone Commission (DCTZC), which collects the room tax. 

Permitting fees are also part of the annual requirements, though each municipality has a different rate structure. The lowest rate is the Village of Egg Harbor’s business license of $25 annually; the highest is Sevastopol’s rate of $300 for its initial STR license. 

The DCVRA is a nonprofit organization representing STR owners that formed during Sevastopol’s consideration of its ordinance. The group stated during public meetings that it was funded and prepared to take legal action, should the town pass the ordinance with the six-night rule. Now that it has passed, Slater said Sevastopol is not influencing other municipalities the way the group had feared.

“How we’re looking at it for all of Door County is, there was talk early on that Sevastopol would be a model,” Slater said. “But now, other towns are doing it without the six-night restriction. Now Sevastopol is the outlier rather than the model. That’s the biggest shift that’s happened in comparison to where we were.

“I think because we’re seeing other towns take a much wiser view, we want to work with towns and establish a relationship that’s collaborative,” Slater added. “Litigation is a last resort when developing relationships with people.”

The Village of Egg Harbor and City of Sturgeon Bay passed STR ordinances a couple of years ago, but not until this year have other municipalities started to take action. The Town of Liberty Grove passed its ordinance in June without a restriction on rentals. The Town of Nasewaupee is now also considering an ordinance without rental restrictions, said Steve Sullivan, town board chair. 

Sullivan said they have about 54 STRs within the town, and only two of those have been problems due to advertised occupancy maximums that exceed standards for the private, on-site wastewater-treatment systems. 

“We’re not going to limit the days they’re going to rent it; at least I don’t think we are,” Sullivan said. “There are so many people doing a good job. You really don’t want to punish everyone.”

The town briefly discussed an ordinance in July and will have it on its agenda for its regular August board meeting. 

Similarly, a draft of an STR ordinance has moved out of the Town of Gibraltar Plan Commission and was on the town board’s agenda for Aug. 4, after the deadline of this issue of the newspaper. The proposed ordinance does not have a rental restriction, said Linda Merline, Gibraltar Plan Commission chair.

“That was a part we didn’t care for,” she said.

Insead, and similar to the Village of Egg Harbor model, the town intends to establish a business-license program that would apply to all businesses, including STRs. The license would cost $45 annually. STR owners would additionally need to show proof of licensing by the state and the DCTZC, but the STRs would be treated like all other businesses.

“The town board is very adamant about being fair and equal,” said Travis Thyssen, Gibraltar town administrator. “We’re not trying to pick on STRs; we openly accept them. They’re a big part of our community. We just want it to be fair.” 

Thyssen said the town is looking at the business license as a way to gain emergency-contact information for all businesses. Additionally, key holders for all businesses, including STRs, would not have residency requirements, but they would need to be able to respond to an emergency or complaint within 45 minutes.

Thyssen said he believed they had about 90 STRs within the town out of a total of 230 businesses. He did not expect the board would impose rental limitations at this time. Looking into the future, if STRs became “overburdensome,” he said the town could consider limiting the number of STR licenses it allows, similar to limiting liquor licenses.

If all goes as planned, the Gibraltar business license would be implemented for 2022, with public-information outreach starting this fall.