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Planning commission tables discussion on vacation rentals

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

If Cook County were to begin regulation and oversight of vacation rentals through a specific ordinance, there needs to be further clarification for exactly how that will take form, the members of the Cook County Planning Commission agreed during a public hearing Wednesday night.

After reaching that consensus, and following a public hearing that lasted for more than two hours, the members of the planning commission agreed to table any further discussion about a proposed short-term rental ordinance until their May meeting.

Approximately 35 people were in attendance Wednesday night at the courthouse to discuss the future of vacation rentals in Cook County. The hearing featured an array of comments from county staff, local residents, business owners and members of the planning commission.

Judy Motschenbacher is a member of the planning commission. She questioned the rationale behind approving an ordinance that would regulate a key sector of the local tourism industry, particularly because state agencies already monitor and license short-term rentals in Cook County.

“Do we really have a problem?” she said in reference to how many complaints or other negative issues actually exist in Cook County regarding short-term rentals.

John Schloot is another member of the planning commission. He believes short-term rentals are a problem in Cook County, specifically when it comes to health-related issues. For example, a short-term rental property near Schloot’s resort on Gunflint Lake pulled water directly from the lake without treating it properly. In addition, Schloot explained, the owners of the short-term rental near his business boasted of the fact that they did not charge state taxes or the local lodging tax to rent their property.

Mike Larson is the co-owner of Cascade Vacation Rentals based in Cook County. Using specific numbers, Larson said the vacation-rental industry in Cook County is a great benefit to the county and its thriving tourism industry. As the majority of short-term rental operators fully abide by state and local laws, Larson said he viewed the ordinance as “unnecessary,” a comment that Motschenbacher and another member of the planning commission, Jerry Hiniker, appeared to agree with based on their statements during Wednesday’s public hearing.

Tim Nelson from the county’s land services department opened the public hearing with background on vacation rentals in Cook County. Nelson said short-term rentals have been operating in the county since the mid-1980s and are therefore not a new issue on the local level. Addressing the aforementioned vacation-rental ordinance, Nelson said there has been a detailed examination of short-term rentals in the county done by members of county staff. In addition, a 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 provide oversight on vacation rentals is the culmination of a lengthy and detailed process, Nelson said. It is modeled after other Minnesota counties that regulate short-term rentals, including Douglas County in the west-central part of the state.

The next meeting of the planning commission is Wednesday, May 8, at 5 p.m. in the commissioners’ room of the Cook County Courthouse.