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New short-term rentals paused while East Bay Township drafts regulations

Taylor Wizner
Interlochen Public Radio
East Bay Charter Township Trustees listen to residents share about the impact of short-term rentals on the community.

Airbnb does more business in Grand Traverse County than anywhere else in Michigan.

That may be no more apparent than in East Bay Charter Township, where some streets have more vacation rentals than people who live there year round.

The area attracts residents looking for forested inland lakes, rolling hills and neighborhoods close to Traverse City’s east thoroughfare.

But homeowners said their community has recently become co-opted by out-of-towners who come for a taste of Traverse City, but by sheer demand, have turned the quiet life by the lake and friendly neighborhoods into hotel districts.

On Monday night, more than 75 people gathered for the East Bay Board of Trustees meeting where the Board approved a moratorium on new licenses for short-term rentals for at least six months.

Trustees said it would give them time to update their vacation rental ordinance for licenses, which saw an 18% increase in applications since October. After announcing the Township was considering a moratorium a few weeks ago, zoning administrator Preston Taylor said he’d received dozens of calls asking about the process of getting a vacation rental license.

There are currently 154 vacation rentals in East Bay and at least 46 of those are on Spider Lake—the large inland lake in the center of the Township.

The Pine Grove neighborhood, once a working class enclave on the outskirts of Traverse City, is now unaffordable to most families looking to move there, due to the plethora of short-term rentals.

During public comment at Monday’s meeting, Kerry Secrist marveled at how the area surrounding her home in the Pine Grove neighborhood has changed in 40 years.

“We have the TART trail,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to be and live.”

But now, the small community of just a few blocks now has more than 25 short-term rentals, residents said.

“I’m so concerned about what’s happening in my neighborhood I could cry,” Secrist told East Bay Trustees. “There are so many Airbnbs and irresponsible people who rent them out.”

Secrist said she regularly hears fireworks going off, cars speeding down the streets and 100 people at a house party on Labor Day weekend.

She complained that investors force homebuyers out of the market because they’re willing to pay above asking, knowing they’ll make it back in summer income.

Still, some local vacation rental operators said a moratorium will be unfair. They said they already have too many township regulations to deal with. Most said they wanted to support their community and address problems.

Wayne Kiley owns a short-term rental on the Boardman River, where he said his guests are respectful and come back to the area as homeowners.

“I know we have afforded families opportunities they would never have coming to Traverse City and sitting in a hotel room at the edge of a bed,” Kiley said. “Having that river experience has changed the lives of a lot of people that have come back regularly.”

Kiley said the solution to issues created by short-term rentals is to beef up compliance with current regulations.

“If there’s a problem in a community then it becomes an enforcement issue,” he said. “I think there’s a zoning administrator. There’s law enforcement and there’s a potential to revoke licenses based on non-compliance.”

John Jury, another vacation rental operator, agreed.

“We simply have to start holding our license holders to the fire and make sure that they are adhering to the rules and regulations,” he said.

East Bay Township will use the six months, or longer, moratorium to draft new regulations for short-term rentals with help from an attorney.

Meanwhile, pending state legislation looms large. There are two bills, one passed by the House, which, if passed, would limit communities’ capacity to regulate the number of vacation rentals.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.