Sevastopol’s town board is scheduled to discuss its short-term-rental (STR) ordinance for a second time, but it will again defer a decision.The discussion-only topic will be on the board’s agenda on Monday, June 21.
Also known as “tourist rooming houses,” STRs are any residential dwelling offered for rent for fewer than 29 consecutive days. They are required to be licensed by the state of Wisconsin and the Door County Tourism Zone Commission. Increasingly, municipalities are adding extra levels of oversight in an effort to head off issues pertaining to sanitary sewer systems, noise, parking and pets.
Sevastopol has gone a step further by imposing rental limitations. Under its draft, an owner could rent the property once every seven days between renters.
The town took that ordinance to a public hearing May 11 and drew 33 comments, only 10 of which favored the ordinance. The primary reason why speakers favored the ordinance was to stem the churn of transient residents in their residential neighborhoods and keep the neighborhoods from becoming quasi business districts.
The majority who did not support the ordinance were largely, but not exclusively, STR owners. They said the limit on the number of renters they could have in a week would drain them of income or destroy their livelihoods. Others said they would stand to lose cottages that had been in their families for generations if the town limited the STR income that pays for the maintenance and taxes on those homes.
During a May 17 meeting, the Sevastopol town board discussed the ordinance for the first time since the plan commission delivered it, but the board did not change it at all and took no action.
“I still have some open issues with the attorney, so until those are resolved, this will not be brought back for action,” said Town Chair Dan Woelfel at the end of that May 17 meeting.
That’s still where the town remains. Woelfel confirmed Monday that the topic would be on the board’s June 21 agenda, but again for discussion only. He said board members are still reviewing the document and consulting with the town’s attorney.
Members of the nonprofit Door County Vacation Rental Association, which formed in reaction to Sevastopol’s proposed ordinance, told the board during its May 17 meeting that they were prepared to take – and have funds for – legal action, should Sevastopol pass the rental-limiting requirement.
Town of Liberty Grove Close to Finishing STR Ordinance
Sevastopol is considering outsourcing compliance of its ordinance to a company called Granicus that would track compliance and rental activity. It has that in common with the Town of Liberty Grove, which is also nearly finished with an STR ordinance and may sign a contract with Granicus.
Liberty Grove’s and Sevastopol’s ordinances are similar in their approaches to licensing, wastewater treatment, parking, noise and emergency contacts. They differ in one big way, however: Liberty Grove’s draft does not regulate how frequently an STR owner may rent a property.
“We avoided that altogether,” said Nancy Goss, Liberty Grove Plan Commission chair.
Goss said that if the commission imposed rental limitations, it would have to do so across all zoning districts rather than just in residential areas.
“So if I have an [STR] property in a commercial district, I would feel discriminated against,” she said.
Even though the rental limitation doesn’t exist in Liberty Grove’s ordinance, Goss said the commission is anticipating pushback from those who don’t want any change at all. One STR owner, for example, objected to the language that subjects STR owners to license revocations because of renters’ noncompliant behaviors.
“Our thinking is the owner is the ultimate responsible person,” Goss said. “If they have illegal activity or egregiously annoying activity, it’s on the owners. We’re not draconian about it; we have a three-strike rule. It basically says, ‘Hey, your renters screwed up; be more careful about your selections.’”
Town of Gibraltar Holds STR Discussions
The Town of Gibraltar held two plan commission Zoom meetings – for discussion only – at the request of the town board. The purpose, according to Linda Merline, plan commission chair, was to become more informed about the issue.
Merline said the STR advocates who participated did not favor additional regulation and that many of those “seemed to be local residents who owned STRs as a way to supplement their income, lived nearby and closely managed their properties.”
The commission also heard from residents who had many problems with neighboring STRs, Merline said.
“These STRs seemed to have a frequent turnover of unruly guests and no one local responsible for the property,” she said. “The neighbors felt that more regulation was necessary to protect residential neighborhoods from these businesses.”
The town has hired its first administrator since the discussions were held, and Merline said she’s not sure which direction that administrator will take, if any.
“As far as I know, there hasn’t been any further discussion or action on STRs,” she said.