A group of residents is lobbying Park Township to overturn a total ban on short-term rentals that’s set to take effect Oct. 1 in the Holland-area municipality, citing a survey that found most respondents opposed the measure.
Park Township Neighbors was formed this spring by a handful of residents in the town of about 19,000 people along Lake Michigan. The group has since amassed about 100 members who are short-term rental property owners, local business owners and longtime guests of short-term rentals in the Ottawa County township.
The organization’s official position is that the municipality’s November 2022 ban on short-term rentals — which appears to be the only one in the state — was a “sudden and surprising” move that will unfairly punish long-time STR property owners and hurt the town’s tourism economy and future growth.
Jeremy Allen, president of Park Township Neighbors, is a native of Alabama and lived in Seattle before moving to West Michigan. His wife, who’s from the Holland area, convinced him to give the area a try by first purchasing a home they could use as a short-term rental and second home. Four years ago, they decided to move to Park Township permanently.
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He said his story is far from unusual, as he knows many young families that have moved to the township after first vacationing there.
“We want to be welcoming, and so why not take these homes that have a history and a tradition of being short-term rentals and allow them to continue to operate with reasonable regulations and invite more families like ours to the area?” he said.
Allen said the decision to ban STRs in Park Township felt sudden because the board of trustees had entrusted the planning commission with considering new local legislation surrounding STRs in 2021.
However, the board reversed course in fall 2022, deciding to table the planning commission’s draft legislation and start enforcing an existing 1974 ordinance that neither specifically addresses nor authorizes short-term rentals, which the board concluded makes them illegal by default.
Allen said he questions that interpretation of the nearly 50-year-old statute, which was codified long before booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO existed.
While short-term rentals are controversial all over Michigan, and multiple vacation destinations have moved to set caps on STRs or confine them to certain zoning districts, Park Township’s decision appears to be the first total ban in the state.
That’s according to Jennifer Rigterink, assistant director of state and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. Her group has been following the issue for years and advocates for local control over short-term rentals, though not outright bans.
“We believe, per the Zoning Enabling Act, that locals have the ability to regulate short-term rentals, but like any legitimate land use, not necessarily the ability to ban them,” Rigterink said. “But I’m not their attorney. … They must feel like they have some kind of legal ability to do that.”
Park Township Manager Howard Fink told Crain’s Grand Rapids Business that legal precedent backs Park Township’s decision. He cited the 2019 Michigan Supreme Court verdict in Reaume v. Township of Spring Lake, which said that short-term rentals are commercial uses, not residential, and therefore fall within the township’s definition of motels, which are not permitted in residential districts.
The same is true in Park Township, he said. Motels and hotels are restricted to commercial areas.
According to a Park Township Neighbors document that Allen provided to Crain’s Grand Rapids Business, the group hopes to “find a compromise that would respect the rights of long-term residents, existing vacation home owners, and continue welcoming families to vacation and enjoy our community.”
Allen said so far, the group’s members have contributed about $100,000 in dues to the 501(c)4 organization, which they propose putting toward short-term rental registration or licensing fees if the township agrees to reverse the ban.
He said these fees and other efforts by Park Township Neighbors would help address the nuisance complaints of residents who are against short-term rentals.
“Our stance is … we should give the township enough resources every year to hire part-time enforcement in the summer, and really have a good registration and licensing system in place,” Allen said. “So we’ve raised almost $100,000 and … (started) working on ‘Good Neighbor’ guidelines that the majority of the group has agreed to abide by if the township board, in fact, allows us to register and be legally operating vacation rentals.”
Allen said he has a coffee meeting scheduled with Park Township Board of Trustees Supervisor Jim Gerard on Monday, during which he plans to ask the board to meet with Park Township Neighbors to hear their concerns about the ban and review their suggestions for new legislation surrounding STRs.
Gerard was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment.
If given an audience before the board, Allen said Park Township Neighbors would present the findings of a recent survey they partnered with the West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors to conduct.
WMLAR hired polling firm American Strategies to conduct a survey that garnered 412 responses from registered voters between Aug. 14 and Aug. 21 of this year. It found 58% of respondents did not support the upcoming ban on STRs.
Sixty-four percent said they would favor a different policy that would set a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed in residential areas in the township.
Allen said his group’s ideal outcome is that the township would allow the approximately 250 short-term rentals operating in Park Township to continue operating, while prohibiting additional STRs.
“We don’t want to go to court,” he said. “We don’t want to hire attorneys to battle about this thing and drive neighbor against neighbor. Can we let cooler heads prevail? Three percent is not a big problem,” he said, referring to his estimate of how much of the township’s housing stock is currently used as a short-term rental.
Fink estimates about 300 units, or approximately 3.5%, of the total 8,500 units of housing stock are short-term rentals.
If the township proves unwilling to reverse the ban, Allen said Park Township Neighbors has several next steps in mind. First, it wants to commission an economic study to show the value of STRs to Park Township’s tourism economy. It wouldn’t be done in time to stop the ban, but it could be used to fuel future advocacy efforts, he said.
Secondly, he and his board are working with several attorneys to devise legal strategies.
Thirdly, they may want to work with lawmakers like state Rep. Joey Andrews, a Democrat from St. Joseph who supports short-term rentals. Andrews has proposed legislation that would expand the hotel tax to cover STRs and create an opt-in 6% excise tax on STRs. A portion of the money would then go back to the local governments so they can recoup costs created by their short-term rentals.
A last-resort tactic, Allen said, would be to stand up a slate of candidates who can replace the current board of trustees when their terms end next year.
“But my comment has been, we don’t need to ‘Ottawa Impact’ this,” he said.
Fink said he has serious doubts about the survey methodology that yielded a majority of respondents opposing the ban — especially considering the bias of the groups that commissioned it.
“We would have lots of questions, in terms of the quality of the information and whether or not there were protections against individuals responding multiple times,” he said.
But more importantly, he said, the township board and planning commission already feel they are dialed in to what residents want.
Allen said Park Township Neighbors filed Freedom of Information Act requests to review all the documented complaints the township has received about short-term rentals and found only a “few dozen,” largely lodged by the same folks over and over again.
Meika Weiss, Park Township’s community development director, said that’s because many of the complaints took the form of noise and nuisance calls from neighbors of STR operators to the Sheriff’s Department or to staff.
On top of that, Fink said during the nearly two-year period when the current policy was being reviewed, elected and appointed officials listened to hundreds of hours of public comment during packed meetings. Some of the comments were about short-term rentals’ effect on the housing stock, but most were about their implications on the peace of neighborhoods.
“The board made that determination (to enforce the 1974 ordinance) after two years of overwhelming opposition to short-term rentals and the impact that short-term rentals have on communities, and particularly those who live around them,” Fink said. “And that has consistently been communicated to us, clearly and overwhelmingly by our residents, that they do not desire to have short-term rentals in their residential neighborhoods.”
While Fink and Weiss said they can’t speak for the township board, their perspective from being on staff during this whole process is that the board likely will not reverse its decision.
“The purview of the board and the planning commission is to hear and listen to the residents and the constituents and … they made a choice as to the vision of what they see as Park Township — a rural, residential community,” Fink said.
“It’s not to say that short-term rentals are inherently bad. It’s to say that this board … determined that they were not the right fit for Park Township, and that was supported by the vast majority of our community’s residents.”
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Flower, natural wine shop on track to replace vacant Creston ‘eyesore’
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