Since last year, Peninsula Township officials have been attempting to clamp down on township residents who have used Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and other sites to offer rooms in their houses to tourists visiting the area.
The current Peninsula Township Zoning Ordinance does not have a provision prohibiting Airbnbs, nor should it. When private property rights are at issue, governments should move carefully and only restrict such rights when there are real public health, safety or welfare problems. Perceived problems should not be used as grounds for such restrictions.
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Airbnb and similar websites provide an alternative to traditional types of housing offered on the Old Mission Peninsula. There are a few bed and breakfast establishments, notably the Grey Hare Inn, as well as rooms at Chateau Chantal and Chateau Grand Traverse, and the Old Mission Inn. There are no hotels, motels or camping grounds on the Peninsula. In total, there are probably less than 50 rooms available on the Peninsula.
If Peninsula Township officials allowed residents the ability to offer a room in their house, residents could earn extra income, as well as provide alternatives to visitors wishing to stay in our beautiful area. This would also offer residents the opportunity to put up their friends and family when they come to visit, especially in the busy summer season.
My wife and I have been offering one room in our house through Airbnb for the past three years. We have met wonderful people from all over the world, and I can attest to their unbound enthusiasm for our area. In addition, they are putting good tourist dollars into the local economy. I often send them to a Peninsula restaurant or winery, as well as the Peninsula Market and Old Mission General Store.
In addition, these businesses often employ young people, including students returning home from college. With the limited number of sleeping rooms on the Peninsula, why should Township officials want to close off these other avenues of accommodations?
Guests staying at these places have not caused any problems while in the area. They usually are on the go from morning to evening and come back for a short rest before going to dinner. I would venture to say that many people who live on the Old Mission Peninsula have stayed at an Airbnb and can attest that it is a good alternative. In a free market economy, folks should have a choice between as many alternatives as possible.
I know the Township is planning on holding a public hearing on the Airbnb concept, and I hope the community comes out in support of allowing Airbnbs and other platforms to operate here.
Finally, it has come to my attention that the Township has also hired a person whose main function is to spy on Township residents to see if they are listing their home on Airbnb or other platforms. There is something inherently wrong with having this office set up with taxpayers’ money. Whether you think Airbnbs are a good idea or not, you should be bothered by the idea that someone is paid to troll the Internet in hopes of finding someone who has an Airbnb listing, and then threatening them with civil and criminal penalties.
This is not in the best spirit of good government, and seems to be in direct opposition to a desire by the Township to hold a fair and open hearing on the Airbnb concept. Given the recent cyber-attacks on peoples’ computers, I would prefer that our township not use its resources to support a systematic peeking at one’s Internet postings.
This spying should be shut down and the Township should move forward in determining how best to offer the shared economy to its citizens. Grand Rapids, for one, has embraced Airbnbs and short term home stays, and there is no reason why we should not, too.
As the various bodies of our township move forward on a rewrite of the Zoning Ordinance, they should keep the above issues in mind and adopt an Airbnb friendly ordinance.