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County sets public hearing to discuss vacation rentals

Vacation rentals are common throughout Cook County. Photo by Joe Friedrichs
Vacation rentals are common throughout Cook County. Photo by Joe Friedrichs

The future of vacation rentals in Cook County remains in the spotlight, including a public hearing scheduled for April 10 in Grand Marais to discuss possible changes to taxation and licensing fees for short-term rentals on the local market.

Mike Larson addressed the topic of short-term rentals during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners March 12. Larson is the co-owner of Cascade Vacation Rentals based in Cook County. He is also a member of an appointed group known as the ‘vacation rental committee.’ The group consists of elected officials, business owners, county staff and others with an interest or involvement in short-term rentals in Cook County.

Larson said it would be beneficial for the local vacation rental committee to meet at least one more time before a public hearing that is scheduled for April 10. The county is considering adopting an ordinance that would change certain ways short-term rentals are classified, taxed and monitored. 

Larson said he does not oppose the vacation-rental ordinance. However, it would be important for the vacation rental committee to meet at least one more time prior to the hearing, Larson said.

Tim Nelson from the county’s land services department opened the regular agenda for this week’s board meeting. Addressing the aforementioned vacation-rental ordinance, Nelson said there has been a detailed examination of short-term rentals in the county. In addition, the vacation rental committee has met a number of times during the past two years to discuss oversight options and classification for short-term rentals in the county.

In the summer and fall of 2018, the vacation rental committee met several times to discuss a variety of topics related to short-term rentals in Cook County. A subcommittee was also formed to further explore key issues, including a comparison of other counties and how they regulate short-term rentals.

Nelson said there are opinions on both sides when it comes to how many vacation rentals there are in Cook County and how they should be regulated by local government. Some local residents think vacation rentals should be banned in residential areas in the county, Nelson said, while others think they are valuable for the local economy and should be left alone from regulation.

The ordinance drafted by the county to reclassify taxation and provide oversight on vacation rentals is the culmination of
a lengthy and detailed process, Nelson said. There has been ample opportunity for the community and vacation rental committee to provide input on this topic, he added. Nelson has been involved with discussion on this topic for many years and said there are varying sides not just in the community, but on the vacation rental committee itself.

Commissioner Myron Bursheim questioned if postponing the public hearing would complicate the timeline for adopting an ordinance. Nelson said the county’s land services department will enter its busy season in the coming months and delaying the public hearing, as Larson from Cascade Vacation Rentals suggested earlier in the meeting, would only stall the process.

County Administrator Jeff Cadwell said the vacation rental committee is not an authorized body of local government, and it is up to the planning commission and county board to enact policy based on the needs of the community. Therefore, Cadwell said, a public hearing on this topic would only further educate these governing bodies whereas a meeting of the vacation rental committee would be only a platform to share ideas and information.

Commissioner Dave Mills questioned how yurts and similar structures would be classified and regulated under a vacation rental ordinance. Nelson said it was an excellent question and one that needs to be explored further before any ordinance is adopted.

After the county board and Nelson discussed the topic for more than 45 minutes, Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk made a motion to set the public hearing to discuss the vacation rental ordinance for April 10 at 6 p.m. at the Cook County Courthouse. It was approved on a 5-0 vote.