The Green Lake Common Council began adjusting its ordinance designed to regulate short-term rentals — also known as Airbnbs or Vrbos — Monday night after hearing from 13 members of the public.
Changes made to the ordinance include eliminating a requirement for guests to stay for a minimum of seven-consecutive nights, discarding a cap on the number of days a short-term rental can be rented and eliminating redundancies with Tri-County Environmental Health Consortium.
Officials said Monday’s modifications were part of a process that likely will take multiple meetings to complete. The Common Council plans to hold another special meeting next month, separate from regular Committee of the Whole and Common Council meetings.
Although revisions were made Monday, the meeting was quite different from typical Common Council meetings as Council President and Ald. Liane Walsh led the short-term rental discussion rather than Mayor Ray Radis.
Radis chose to recuse himself from the discussion about the ordinance after certain members of the community alleged that he was showing “favoritism” toward the Heidel House developers through regulation of Airbnbs.
“This is not and never was the intention of this ordinance,” Radis said in a March 8 letter to the Common Council. “In the best interest of fair and transparent city management, I am going to recuse myself from further development and input of this ordinance. I can also assure you that any decision made for the Heidel House was not done as ‘favoritism,’ but was made in the best interest of the city of Green Lake with the city council’s vote.”
In fact, at a March 11 economic development committee meeting, Heidel House investor Mike White indicated that he was in favor of short-term rentals.
“I have nothing against short-term rentals,” he said. “The more the merrier for all the tourists we have around here as far as I’m concerned.”
Additionally, Walsh described the allegations against Radis as meritless, noting the prior administration had also talked about regulating short-term rentals.
“There were some letters that accused our mayor, Ray, of doing things in an unfair manner,” she said. “That’s just not true; this has been on the table many times before.”
Going into Monday’s special Committee of the Whole meeting, the Common Council provided written feedback regarding the proposed ordinance and received multiple letters from members of the public voicing their thoughts and concerns.
The discussion of short-term rentals began with remarks from Loni Meiborg, who sits on the city’s economic development committee. She presented thoughts from a group of about 10 short-term rental stakeholders.
“I see this STR (short-term rental) ordinance as an opportunity to bolster economic development and not take away from it, if we can work collaboratively to find a balance,” Meiborg said. “I think we truly have to take our full-time residents’ needs into consideration when we look at changes like this, but I also think this opportunity to support short-term rentals is a step towards the vision that we’ve invested in for decades.”
She was the first in a series of community members who spoke before the Common Council, which didn’t begin discussing the ordinance until about an hour into the meeting.
After the public comments, some officials were ready to table the discussion for another meeting, but Alds. George King and Walsh pushed to at least tackle a portion of the revision process.
“I think we could all agree that we should continue working on this ordinance, [try to] get it done this year with the understanding that it’s not going to take effect until Jan. 1 next year,” King said. “... We all owe it to the citizens that showed up to this; they didn’t show up for us to just adjourn the meeting without really doing anything.”
During the discussion, aldermen largely agreed that the ordinance was too large and cumbersome, with many noting “there’s a lot here.”
The first item addressed was the minimum seven-consecutive day requirement. It was discussed that many tourists only stay for two to three days.
“We have to think of our offseason here,” Walsh said. “Somebody is not going to come up snowmobiling for an entire week in the winter.”
The Common Council voted 5-0 to delete the minimum stay of seven-consecutive days for short-term rentals.
The next topic was the line in the ordinance that forbids short-term rentals from renting for more than 180 total days each year.
Ald. Jim Jahnke cast the lone “no” vote on whether to eliminate the 180-day maximum for short-term rentals.
Beyond discussing limits on the number of days, aldermen discussed allowing the Tri-County Environmental Health Consortium, which already inspects rentals in Waushara, Green Lake and Marquette Counties, to handle the inspection process.
Tri-County Public Health Technician Becky Hubatch explained the process for its inspections, in which she reviews a checklist with renters that looks for cleanliness and if homes being rented adhere to state housing standards.
“When I first go for the initial inspection, if there’s any issues, I show them, I talk about it with them and make sure it’s corrected,” Hubatch said. “I inspect 300 places throughout all three counties and I’ve never had any major issues anytime I’ve ever done an inspection because all places are taken care of very well.”
The Common Council voted 5-0 to allow Tri-County to handle inspections and notify the city when rentals passed inspection.
“Let’s let Tri-County do its job,” Walsh said.
The final issue discussed was waiving some of the requirements of short-term rental property managers, which requires them to hold multiple permits at the city, state and federal levels.
“It’s an extraordinary process to get to them to get them that license,” Ald. Chris Foos said. “For this purpose … that is excessive. It’s unnecessary.”
After the changes were talked about, City Attorney Dan Sondalle said he plans to create another, slimmed down, version of the ordinance for the Common Council to review and revise.