News Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

STR cap may go ‘nuclear’ anyway

By Scott Sullivan


Saugatuck’s long road to short-term rental caps advanced Monday by a mixed vote, placing 20-percent limits in the R-1 Community Residential zone.

The move — argued for a year-plus of task force, planning commission and city council meetings — passed Monday 4-2 after planners handed it off June 19, 4-3.

What’s become a familiar voting bloc — Mayor Lauren Stanton, Mayor Pro-Tem Helen Baldwin, immediate past Mayor Scott Dean and first-year council member Holly Anderson — voted yes, Russ Gardner and Gregory Muncey no.

Both noted the city attorney had vetted them and fellow member Logan White about conflicts of interest under which they must recuse themselves. White said yes and did.

“Did the attorney ask all council members?” Gardner asked. “I would rely on everyone’s self-disclosure.” Each, except White, said Monday they did not have STR fiscal interests.

Cap proponents claim surveys show most city voters want to scale back STR growth to limit loud, late-night parties, overparking onto neighbor lawns and more antics that threaten peace and quiet of what laws say should be low-density, single-family residential neighborhoods.

Opponents say they would cripple Saugatuck’s economic lifeblood, tourism; ask “Who commissioned that survey anyway?” and “Where’s the economic-impact study due diligence should require before acting rashly?” Don’t meddle in a free market that — with better enforcement of laws now existing — works.

Third-month City Managers Ryan Cummins, 32, tasked too with zoning and planning duties, formerly two jobs and replacing a treasurer too, noted contracted planning consultant David Jirousek June 29 tallied 158 of 501 improved city dwellings were STRs, 32 percent.

Community R-1 had by far the most, 123 of 354 (37 percent) of such units licensed to house transients.

Cummins, based also on last Wednesday’s council workshop, debate and direction, Monday presented three sample motions:

1) Follow the split PC’s call to impose 20-percent R-1 license caps, not applying retroactively to existing license holders but kicking in should they sell their properties.

It would also not affect living quarters owned by full-time residents with valid principal-residence exemptions (PRE’s), provided they’re not rented more than 21 days per year, e.g. family visits for part of a Saugatuck summer with you.

Once available, STR licenses would be issued as on a (choose one) first-come, first-served/lottery/merit-based competitive review basis.

2) A 25-percent cap in R-1 with no PRE exemptions; or

3) Caps in all R-1 districts, including Peninsulas West, South and North plus Maple Street, no PRE exemptions also.

Even Monday’s passing of Option 1 won’t end pre-November election talks, when two-year seats now held by Stanton, Baldwin, Dean and Muncey will expire.

“It’s no secret,” Dean said at last Wednesday’s workshop, “that four of us plan to pass caps Monday.”

Muncey and Gardner again said an economic-impact study should be done first and suggested a public referendum might best resolve such an important, divisive issue.

“It’s all about money-money-money?” realtor Ethan Baarde quoted critics rhetorically. “Yes, it’s about money. We need money.”

He and other cap foes cited a Saugatuck-Douglas Area Convention & Visitors Bureau letter in last week’s Commercial Record.

“Quite simply,” it said, “capping STRs would take funds away from marketing the area as a phenomenal travel destination at a time when competition for the tourist dollar has never been more intense.

“It could also send a message — exponentially amplified across press and social media — that Saugatuck is no longer nearly as welcoming to tourists as we purport to be,” the board letter cautioned.

“We have a mandate to do our jobs,” Dean countered. “Past councils avoided acting on what’s been a growing problem.”

“I take offense at that,” countered Gardner. “Past councils studied this carefully and decided STRs should remain a free-market option.”

Anderson called 178-percent STR growth in the last seven years an “explosion” that jeopardizes homeowners’ quality of life.

“For comparison’s sake,” she continued, “Charlevoix passed STR caps in 2019 and property values have gone i[ each year since.”

Bobbie Gaunt, who identified herself as a planning commissioner and Hill resident who voted yes, said the July 4 weekend past had been anything but what low-density, single-family residential zoning called for.

“Saugatuck is Saugatuck, not Charlevoix. We like it that way,” Muncey said.

A technical fluff cut off sound to 25 Zoom participants midway through the workshop, prompting one to say, “I did nothing to disconnect us. Imagine that.”

“I’m not convinced,” said Dean, “by the fearmongers saying caps will wreck Saugatuck economically. We will always people with our beauty. Passing this cap will prevent the nuclear option of a ballot initiative.”

The Nov. 5 council vote may or may not take care of that otherwise. “If people don’t support it,” Stanton said, “we will find out then.”

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