News Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

City pauses short-term-rentals pause



Saugatuck City Council last week put a pause on pausing new short-term rental applications.

The planning commission voted 5-1 March 16 to recommend a nine-month freeze on processing new STR applications to buy time while a newly-named task force studies housing availability, conflicts with residents, character of neighborhoods, implications of restricting commerce, landowners’ rights and more. It would not affect existing STRs or applications filed already under existing standards.

A crowded council workshop March 23 brought out residents concerned about its effect on their businesses, homes, local tourist economy and more. Several urged the city first to engage a professional planning firm with no stake in local matters but expertise to assist said task force.

Council members agreed that would be the best tack. Zoning and planning director Ryan Cummins said the city had already sought proposals from three such firms but so far only McKenna & Associates — “a large, statewide planning and design firm that has been here since the ‘70s — had responded.

“It’s not uncommon,” said Garnet Lewis, “in academia or government to have only one response for proposals. It doesn’t matter how many as long as you wind up with one that’s good.”

With the next PC meeting April 20, not acting now on a moratorium “might give us more time to seek proposals and perhaps get more responses to evaluate,” Cummins said.

Council — working with PC, task force and professional planners — hopes harvest data, more community input and recommendations to identify potential reforms regarding certifying and regulating short-term rentals.

The city’s 2023 community survey identified STRs’ rapid growth as council’s top priority to address this year. Saugatuck is not alone. Other communities across Lake Michigan plus nationwide such as Palm Springs and New Orleans have recently instituted temporary permitting moratoriums while they eye retooling codes to address the increase.

Cummins March 22 reported 15 residents and nine nonresidents had applied for the task force, set to start meeting in late April or early May. Based on phone interviews, PC chair Steve Manns recommended Cummins and city manager Ryan Heise interview many of them.

The two Ryans March 17 had discussions in person or via Zoom with Sean Steele, Cathy Hart, Dick Waskin, Joe Clark, Kevin Tringali, Anne Gudith, Suresh Rajapakse, Keely Frye, Eric Lanning, Mark Klungle and Gary Kemp. They interviewed Elizabeth Boerema three days later.

Mayor Scott Dean defended the city’s transparency “in a clearly-contentious matter” much as he did in a letter to The Commercial Record printed here last week.

“Tackling this was cited by residents as council’s top priority this year,” Dean said. “We know it’s important and won’t be easy, but at last and least we are doing it.

“Meetings on this have been and will continue to be public, with input welcome, as you can see from tonight,” he said.

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