For well over a year, the people of Marine on St. Croix., have been working out the details of short-term rental (STR) policies.
Conversations about STRs have often been contentious. Marine Planning Commission members have poured hours into constructing a comprehensive ordinance to please residents and STR owners alike. The ordinance was presented and discussed at a public hearing on Wednesday, July 22, in the school gymnasium.
The hearing began with a brief discussion by the Planning Commission about the ordinance and its most recent updates, followed by attendees voicing their thoughts, concerns, and opinions.
Joining over Zoom, Scandia Mayor Christine Maefsky, who owns an STR in Marine, summarized why STRs are an essential part of the community.
“We do not have hotels or motels; our communities are simply not large enough to economically support those kinds of accommodations,” Maefsky said. “We do, however, have a need for short term accommodations for those who wish to visit and enjoy the natural environment, the historical, cultural, and economic amenities that we offer. We have a need for short term accommodations for friends and relatives who come to Marine or Scandia to visit.”
Even after her gratitude towards the Planning Commission’s efforts, Maefsky had a running list of suggestions and alterations in mind. This mixed attitude of optimism and concern blanketed almost every comment that evening.
While some were impressed with the ordinance’s STR regulations, such as the implementation of STR licenses and precautions to keep neighborhood peace, others were strongly opposed to certain details.
The number of STRs per district has been one of the most contested topics in the ordinance. The commission ultimately decided to allow up to three per district. Previous committee discussions recommended four, and some residents petitioned for two.
The committee had entertained the idea of altering the number of STRs in the rural districts compared to the urban districts in Marine and, after much deliberation, decided to set three as the standard throughout the whole town.
“I remember hearing from someone,” said Änna Hagstrom, Committee Member, “that in the rural district there are more gravel roads, and so the impact can be more. So, there are so many facets to each piece of this. And I guess my point in that is to communicate that we really have thought through and considered many, many options.”
Hagstrom also noted that even though there is a maximum number of STRs per district, not all districts will have that many STRs.
Some residents don’t feel the need for STRs in the town at all. Marine has had STR situations turn sour and disrupt community life in the past – hence the ordinance. Karen Kramer, a long-time resident of Marine, believes the risks of STRs are too high.
“I just think they’re infringing on certain residents’ rights, depending on where they put them,” Kramer said after the hearing. “And if you’re next-door to them, then you lose your rights to a private home.”
Nonetheless, the committee continued its efforts to create an effective plan for STRs.
Many pertinent concerns voiced by those in attendance were taken into immediate consideration. The committee turned to Dave Snyder, the city attorney, for advice on how to proceed.
“Sometimes when we come to these meetings,” Snyder said, “it’s assumed that what the planning commission presents to the public with this time is the final word on things. . . . We weren’t presenting this as a final product; the very purpose of the public hearing was to see if improvements could be made.”
With this in mind, Snyder produced a list of recommended changes to the ordinance. The changes included: correcting some typos and clarifying certain passages, emphasizing that STR permits must be renewed annually, using discretion for distributing STR owners’ contact information, and additional definitions for words that could be misunderstood.
Hagstrom motioned to approve the ordinance with the considered alterations. After further discussion about the nature of those alterations, the motion was carried. The ordinance will be presented to the City Council.
In the end, not everyone will be completely satisfied with the ordinance. In the future, the ordinance may be amended if further complications arise. Some attendees feel that the public hearing was too rushed and that, after a year of crafting the amendment, members of the Planning Committee were motivated by fatigue.
Long-time Marine resident and former Planning Committee member Laurie Schmidt is still concerned by the committee’s process of choosing the number of STRs per district. She also wonders how the city will verify how many days out of the year STR owners receive renters. The ordinance states that STRs may be rented for a maximum of 72 days per year, and, without proper enforcement, the responsibility could unintentionally fall on neighborhood residents to report any misconduct.
“Hopefully, people will reach out to the council members to continue the dialogue and get these matters resolved,” Schmidt said after the hearing. “In fact, the Council would be wise to do another survey of residents and their updated, now better-informed thoughts on this.”