(Editor’s Note: At the Peninsula Township Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m. at the Township Hall, the agenda includes this item to be presented by the Township’s attorney, Greg Miehn: “State of Michigan Statutory Presentation on Airbnbs and Short-Term Rentals.” – jb)
At the October meeting of the Peninsula Township Planning Commission, a public hearing was held to attempt to rush through an entire re-write of the Township’s zoning ordinance. This public hearing was not well identified or publicized as to its purpose.
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In addition, the zoning ordinance that had been worked on by the Planning Commission and its Zoning Rewrite Committee suddenly had last-minute changes by the staff, one of whom happens to also sit on the Township Board. That, to me, is a conflict of interest that could come back to haunt the Township at some point in the future.
In any event, it was clear that the Planning Commission members had not seen these changes in advance, and that these changes, some of which were significant, were buried in the addition to the meeting packet.
To its credit, the Planning Commission did vote to extend the public hearing to their meeting on November 16. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that the commission should table this until late spring 2021 in order to allow all residents to comment. Many of our residents will be at their second home before this proposal gets its final approval by the Planning Commission or Township Board.
To be clear, there are major changes in this proposal, and I will address just a few of them so that folks can see this is not just cosmetic in nature, as many were led to believe. In addition, it is my opinion that some of them were an underhanded way to slip in zoning changes that should be publicly addressed more fully.
Here are just a few of the proposed changes:
1. Farmers and other homeowners could find themselves running a “junkyard” and be forced to build an eight-foot masonry fence! And you would be subject to fines because you may have farm equipment or cars on your property in need of repair. Or maybe you have debris – however the zoning folks decide to define that as making your yard a junkyard.
If you have a vehicle or farm equipment lying around for more than 15 days and not running – or in the case of cars, trucks or boats, not registered – then you are a junkyard and have to build an eight-foot masonry wall to screen it. Farm trucks are often only registered for the time period they are in use. This zoning change goes against what is allowed by the Secretary of State.
2. Homeowners’ association rights with regard to docks and hoists etc. would be stripped away. Your homeowners association would no longer be in charge of who can approve your dock or hoist. The revised ordinance would dictate that all people who share the area need to approve it, regardless of the rules and regulations in your association covenants or bylaws.
Imagine one person holding up your enjoyment of a dock. This makes the majority subject to the whims of one or more persons. Wow. I see this as a money-making opportunity for some homeowner who wants to hold everyone hostage.
3. A reasonable compliance time for remedying a violation would drop. The current ordinance provides that a violation must be corrected within 15 days. The proposed ordinance drops that time to seven days. In the one that was snuck in at the last minute, the time period for compliance after notice was eliminated. In short, you would be subject to fines as soon as you got the notice if you did not correct the violation.
This is one of the major changes added by the zoning administrators. As far as I can tell, this was not requested by the Planning Commission, and the staff was hoping they could pop this in. I am of the opinion that the staff exceeded its authority in doing this and other changes that were not asked for or discussed by the commission.
In addition, it is the Planning Commission and not the staff that should be proposing and writing changes, especially when not asked. To try and slip them by at the last minute is egregious and underhanded.
4. The short-term rental ban includes a ban on allowing a friend to stay in your home should he “pay” for that stay. The current zoning ordinance allows a homeowner to rent a room in their own home. It does not forbid it. In fact, the way the current zoning ordinance reads, only one zoning district is not allowed to rent a residence for less than 30 days, and that restriction is limited to whole house rental and does not apply to a room in your house.
When the new zoning amendments were proposed, there was a limit on whole house rentals in every district, but it was limited to the whole house and not a room! Then once again in the last-minute packet – again not requested by the commission, as far as I can see from the minutes – two new provisions were added. One related to adding the rental of a room in your house to the ban on rentals of less than 30 days. The other relates to advertising of your room or residence.
In my opinion, this language is so vague that if you allow a friend or any non member of your family to stay in your house and he gives you a bottle of wine, maybe from a local winery, or takes you to dinner, maybe to a Peninsula restaurant, for example, you would be violating the ordinance. Is that what you think is a good idea?
5. Restriction on advertising is a prior restraint of free speech and violates the First Amendment. The new language added in the proposed ordinance indicates that if you advertise your room for a short-term rental, it is per se an admission that you intend to violate the ordinance. I find the whole idea of restricting my free commercial speech – which is protected by the Constitution – a bad idea and against the principles of this country.
On that note, I also find the whole idea of the Township hiring a company to spy on us, which they have been asked to consider, as a step down a dark path when it comes to our rights. Is this what we want our Township to spend their money on? I hope not. In addition, the thought that my money is spent to send a Township employee around looking for zoning code violations is against the whole idea of an amicable relationship.
Given all of this, shouldn’t we slow this process down? My suggestion is we table this until May 2021 and address sections of the ordinance in a deliberate fashion. Say take the first five each week. Have the staff explain what each section is meant to do, how it differs from the current ordinance, and why the Planning Commission and not the staff thinks it needs to be changed.
For any new ideas such as Airbnbs, I suggest we continue to hold informal meetings to discuss proposals from the Airbnb interested parties to make this work. The Peninsula needs to look forward and embrace change, not for the sake of change, but to provide for new and innovative life for the Peninsula and its many visitors. Insular approaches will only hasten the demise of this beautiful community.
In addition, does everyone who finds the “no” wall thrown up against them need to sue in order to get the Township off its high horse? I hope not. This township finds itself subject to lawsuits too often. Do they have an endless insurance bankroll? What happens if they have to move to self insurance? Then we the taxpayers pay. Let’s work together rather than be in perpetual conflict.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb