Leelanau News and Events

Elmwood Township Allows Short Term Rentals Across All Zoning Districts; 93 Licenses To Be Granted

By Emily Tyra | Oct. 4, 2021

The Elmwood Township board of trustees approved language late last week that allows 93 short term rentals with a license in the township. These short term rentals are to be allowed in every zoning district, including residential.

The decision came after over two years of deliberation by both the township board and planning commission, and a nearly three-hour public hearing on September 30 addressing the zoning ordinance amendment and the finer points of a licensing ordinance to regulate short term rentals. Drafts of the zoning ordinance amendment (adopted by the board in a 5-2 vote), and the licensing ordinance (which passed 6-1 with minor changes) can be reviewed here.

Requirements for the applications will be available on Elmwood Township’s site as soon as this week, and the physical applications will start to be accepted, on a first-come-first-served basis, November 6, 2021 “at the earliest.” The township plans to maintain a waiting list of applicants. Licenses to operate a short-term rental must be renewed each year and are not transferrable upon sale of the property.

The 93 licenses to be issued are based upon 4 percent of the current number of dwelling units in Elmwood Township.

Back in March 2019, the township’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) made an “illegal use” determination for all short term rentals (STRs) in the township that are not owner-occupied bed and breakfasts. Nevertheless, non-owner-occupied STRs have operated in the township for decades and have continued to operate — unchecked — in all zoning districts in Elmwood Township.

Township Supervisor Jeff Shaw shared at the public hearing, “From that [ZBA] decision we have known that they are technically illegal. That’s why we have been here for two and a half years, to try to figure that out and correct that…if that’s what we chose to do.”

The licensing ordinance passed on Thursday requires that either an owner or a manager of the STR property live within 30 miles of it and respond immediately to any problems reported. Parking, quiet hours and capacity limits are all addressed by the ordinance, and owners must secure a license prior to advertising their rental on sites such as AirBnB and VRBO. The license may be revoked after three violations in a single calendar year, or for one or more each year over three consecutive years.

But how will the township track violations? It has requested a bid from a third-party compliance monitoring company called Granicus (formerly Host Compliance) for services such as a 24/7 web and phone hotline for complaints, and for monitoring illegal rental activiy.

Among the citizen concerns voiced Thursday was the legitimacy of neighbor complaints in this “three strikes and you’re out” scenario.

Those in favor of STRs in Elmwood Township cited historic rentals dating back to the early 1900s, tourism dollars spent by rental guests, and supplemental income that allows residents to continue to live in Leelanau County. Those against reiterated that vacation rentals erode the character of neighborhoods by allowing “mini-motels next to year-round homes” and that they displace potential workforce housing.

Jack Kelly, Elmwood Township resident, former Elmwood Township supervisor, and a member of a group called Save Our Neighborhoods in Elmwood (SONIE), has maintained over the years-long debate that commercial businesses should not be allowed in residential zoning districts and that they violate the township’s master plan.

Kelly said of Thursday’s vote: “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. For the first time since zoning came into Elmwood Township back in 1969, we are now allowing a non-owner-occupied commercial business to operate in residential neighborhoods. I don’t have a problem with short term rentals. It’s always been about residential neighborhoods.”

He notes, of a petition signed by 265 residents opposed to allowing the operation of non-owner occupied STRs, “80 percent were from neighborhoods in Greilickville.”

A glimmer of hope came for those particular Elmwood residents in the last few minutes of Thursday’s special meeting. Township clerk and board member Connie Preston made a motion “directing the planning commission to, as soon as possible, develop an overlay district or zoning ordinance amendment to not allow short term rentals in part or all of the residential areas or subdivisions in Greilickville.”

Shaw mentioned any licenses issued in the near future in what may become the overlay district would “essentially be grandfathered in” and allowed to continue.

Kelly said of the proposed overlay district, “I sense there is support on this board for this and I believe you all hear what we are saying about residential neighborhoods. I ask that that you show that commitment and leadership and protect us so we don’t have these concerns going forward.”

Preston’s motion carried 5-2. The onus is now on the planning commission to map and determine the exact boundaries of the overlay district.

Photo: Vacation rental by Jameson Draper

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Elmwood Township clerk and board member Connie Preston as county clerk.

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