Spring Park, after more than two years of looking into the possibility of regulating—and thereby allowing—vacation rentals, has now reversed intention and adopted an ordinance to more strictly prohibit them.

The decision, made 3-2 Sept. 21, amended the city’s code to list short-term rentals as prohibited use in all of Spring Park’s residential districts. Previously such rentals were banned only by a catch-all statement that prohibits “Any use that is not specifically identified as a permitted, accessory or conditional use” in the city’s residential zones.

Zoning considerations, parking scarcity and the small, narrow lots in the city’s residential areas provided the basis for council’s decision. The new ordinance prohibits rentals leased for fewer than 30 days, sometimes referred to vacation rentals or VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner).

“The reason for those zones were to give you a certain degree of comfort—[if] you’re in a residential zone then you’re not next to an industrial park or a business that’s making a lot of noise,” said council member Jeff Hoffman. “There was a degree of separation for those zones for a reason.”

Hoffman also serves as chair of the city’s planning commission, which had recommended Sept. 9 that council adopt the ordinance.

The city had begun looking into allowing VRBO in spring of 2018, the same time the city also began considering local-level regulation of its long-term rental properties. That ordinance the city had unanimously rejected in August of this year.

The first ordinance governing short-term rentals that came out of the planning commission last October had set guidelines for the operation of vacation rentals in the city; in doing so, these rentals would also have become a permitted use in residential districts.

Council in May this year had requested that ordinance be amended to specifically prohibit short-term rentals outright. Planning commissioners then, in reverse course from a year ago, recommended approval of this more stringent ban on VRBO.

Hoffman, along with council members Pamela Horton and Gary Hughes, voted Sept. 21 to uphold the ban. Mayor Jerry Rockvam and council member Mark Chase were in the minority in their opposition to the ordinance.

Rockvam commented that he didn’t know until recently that VRBO were prohibited by Spring Park’s code while Chase, originally opposed to VRBO in Spring Park, said that further review of the planning commission’s hearings and its original ordinance from last October, which would have allowed and regulated VRBO, changed his mind and that he thought a compromise could be reached.

“I think going from talking about how to regulate [VRBO] originally to then just shifting to banning it outright is not the right move,” said Chase.

Chase said he’d like for the city to revisit the planning commission’s first ordinance and argued that opening Spring Park to vacation rentals could be beneficial to the city from a property maintenance standpoint in that doing so may spur owners to invest in their properties as they work to attract vacationers.

“There’s some pretty strict language in there of what you have to meet to actually have a rental property,” said Chase of the original ordinance. 

A handful of residents had come to the Sept. 21 meeting, including one resident who said he has operated a vacation rental in Spring Park for nearly four years in spite of it being a technically prohibited use. That resident was backed by a Spring Park business owner as well as by Spring Park planning commissioner Max Avalos.

Avalos said he was there in his unofficial capacity and said that the city’s discussion around VRBO had not reflected the division in the city over the topic. “We’re here to represent our citizens and not our personal opinions,” he said.

But another resident, who had made appearances at commission meetings last summer, showed up to support the ban largely due to the transient nature of VRBO and the mixed bag of guests that might come into a neighborhood.

“I cannot stand when government gets involved in my life. That being said, I realize that my property rights end when they inflict on other people’s, on my neighbor,” he said, before listing surrounding cities that prohibit VRBO. “It’s not rocket science. There’s a reason that they’re banning these things.”

An analysis by Spring Park city staff concluded that if VRBO were to be allowed in the city that Spring Park would be the only Lake Minnetonka city to welcome them.

Al Brixius, city planner for Spring Park, has said throughout the process that few complaints ever reach city staff, though he also said no log of complaints has been kept. Over the past year, city staff have estimated anywhere from three to seven short-term rentals currently operating against code in Spring Park.

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