Marine on St. Croix planning commissioners, residents and hosts of existing vacation rentals convened last week to discuss short-term rentals in the riverside community.

The plan commission presented a draft proposal for regulating such rental properties, which have seen a surge in popularity since the launch of online platforms like Airbnb and VRBO. 

Based on minutes taken at the session, the planning commission’s proposal aims to balance the goals of allowing rental commerce and keeping neighborhoods residential and as affordable as possible. 

"One concern is investors picking up inventory houses in the community,” Planning Commission Chair Gerry Mrosla told the Messenger in the days following the meeting. “If that happens we lose young families coming here, volunteers for the fire department. … We could see something like a five bedroom STR house with up to 22 guests that I have seen available online nearby MOSC, if the Planning Commission recommends an STR ordinance there needs to be some regulations in place."

Proposed recommendations

The commission recommended the following, based on a study of short-term rental regulations in area cities and community input received through mid June:

• The owner’s primary purpose of the property is for their own use;

• The owner be required to occupy the property at least as many nights as they rent. For multi-unit properties, no more than 50% of the units can be used for short-term rental. The draft recommendation allows leasing part of the home while the owner is there, or the entire home when the owner is not present. 

Among regulations such as limiting the number of total rentals in the city, the commission suggested an annual $200 application fee, a requirement for hosts to obtain permission from neighbors, and hold a lodging license from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Community conversation

Audience comments, per the minutes, were largely supportive of the rental units. Marine resident Andy Creager said he believed both of Marine’s current short-term home rentals should be grandfathered in, and voiced concern about the possibility that complaints could lead to revocation without proper review.

Mike Zajac, resident and owner of the Marine Landing, said the proposed regulations seemed too restrictive, noting that many of his customers are from elsewhere and that many current residents first arrived in Marine as visitors.

John Norusis, owner of the “St. Croix Castle” on Pine Cone Trail currently used as a short-term rental, noted that such rentals invite spending at local businesses and allow him to share his unique property. He added that the proposed regulations are not attainable to him, and if Marine follows through with them he would file suit against the city.

Christine Maefsky, Scandia’s mayor and owner of Marine’s other home-based rental, noted that she is not a resident but is engaged in the community, including a position on the library board.

Others voiced support for such rentals with reasonable regulations, and offered additional considerations.

The meeting shed light on community members’ views on short-term rentals, according to the Messenger’s follow-up conversation with Mrosla.

"The community conversation was good to have,” he said. “There were more people supporting short-term rentals than I thought there would be."

He noted that the process is far from complete.

"We’re still working on this and nothing is concrete yet."

Next steps

The commission will review comments from the meeting and a survey that will be sent to residents with their utility back, due back July 19. The planning commission will discuss the issue again at its July meeting. 

Once an outline for an ordinance is established, including input from the city council, the city would work with its attorney to draft an ordinance. Before final approval, the planning commission would hold a public hearing and the city council would also consider the draft before potential passage.

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