The Minocqua Town Board at its Jan. 7 meeting said a collective “no” to any change in the current county short term rental ordinance.
Oneida County’s planning and zoning department had sent to each town in the county a request for input on behalf of a Three Lakes area business regarding provisions of the county ordinance pertaining to short term rentals.
“It sounds like a rental management company contacted the county,” town chairman Mark Hartzheim said in opening the discussion. “They’re in the business of managing short term rentals.”
“Yeah, from Three Lakes,” town supervisor Billy Fried said.
The contact the county received was by way of a letter dated Nov. 30, 2019, from Richard Javenkoski, managing partner of Northern Lakes Vacation Homes (NLVH) in Three Lakes.
He’d sent the letter to Karl Jennrich, director of the Oneida County Planning and Zoning Department.
Fried, also an Oneida County supervisor who serves on the county’s planning and zoning committee, said zoning committee members, when they last met in December, wanted to know if it was the town of Three Lakes asking for input or the realtors in the area.
“They contacted the town of Three Lakes to make sure it wasn’t their preference,” he said. “The tone I got was to survey the towns, but the committee itself was not in favor of changing the ordinance.”
Hartzheim said the survey Fried spoke of was why the matter was on the agenda.
“As you know, the state legislation changed and no longer enabled us to control short term rentals of a week or more but still prohibited rentals of less than a week,” he said. “So, this is a rental company, inquiring with the county saying ‘Hey, we could be doing more business if you let us do rentals less than seven days.’ The county’s response was to get input from the towns.”
“The seven day rental period works adequately for the peak rental season, as the majority of vacationers plan for extended stays,” Javenkoski wrote in his letter to Jennrich. “However, fall and winter and the length of time someone visiting our area changes dramatically.”
Christmas, he wrote, would be the only time a true seven day rental “might be realized.”
“NLVH at this time can only advertise for seven day rentals for any period of the year,” Javenkoski wrote. “This creates little or no inquiries for renting during off peak times. Our request is to allow NLVH to advertise for less than 7 day rentals on our marketing venues. By doing so, we open our properties to those vacationers who have three or four days to enjoy Northern Wisconsin.”
It’s going on
“What does the board think?” Hartzheim asked at last week’s meeting.
Town supervisor Sue Heil, co-owner of Booth Lake Landing in Minocqua, was the first to speak.
“So, they want to help one business make more money and hurt all the other businesses in town,” she said.
“These are the doors you open when you do this kind of thing,” Hartzheim said.
Town supervisor Bill Stengl said the situation for Three Lakes is different from that of Minocqua in that Three Lakes “lost their only lodging provider in the fire last spring.”
That was a reference to a blaze in early March 2019, that destroyed the Oneida Village Inn, for decades not only a popular lodging facility but a downtown business anchor.
“There’s nowhere to stay in Three Lakes currently,” Stengl said. “So, I can understand why they’d want to have short term rentals in order to boost business for their bars and restaurants.”
For the rest of Oneida County, though, he said he felt it “was questionable” whether there was a need “to think about something like this.”
Fried said he was against it.
“Don’t we have a policy or ordinance in place that would probably supercede what the county would do here?” he asked.
Hartzheim said that was a possibility.
“If you’re asking for input, I’m against it,” Fried said. “Changing it.”
“I think our ordinance could, depending on how the county would re-write their ordinance, supercede it,” Hartzheim said.
With three negative answers to that point, town supervisor John Thompson asked for more clarification of what it was that was being sought.
“They want to do nightly rentals,” Heil said.
“They want to do shorter term rentals than seven days or more,” Hartzheim said.
“Well, I think they can call it whatever they want,” Thompson said. “But, if the people are only there for three or four days then leave ...”
“And don’t do that more than one time in a week,” Hartzheim said.
“They want to get more (lodgers) legally in during the week than what they’re allowed to now,” Fried said. “The tone at the county was ‘Listen. We believe it’s going on but we’re not opening the door more because it’s a single family (rental).’ You don’t want to change up who’s there every few days. They can rent every week, but that we can’t control anymore.”
Thompson said the issue sounded to him like “something they shouldn’t have brought up.”
“Like just because someone asked doesn’t mean you have to poll the whole county?” Hartzheim asked with a chuckle.
“Well, they shouldn’t have even written this letter,” Thompson said. “I suspect they’re doing it already and then they found out they’re not supposed to. I suppose ... honesty’s not a bad thing.”
He said he agreed with Stengl about the shortage of lodging in Three Lakes and that possibly something could be worked out “short term” by Three Lakes with Oneida County.
“If that’s the case,” Fried said. “It seems more like someone wanting to maximize their revenues.”
“Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me so I would say no,” Thompson said.
Hartzheim said he was also against any change.
“I think it’s one of the great misrepresentations of this whole sales pitch to towns to help placate them about this being forced upon them,” he said and noted one of the “sales pitches” used; the change in state law regarding short term rentals would bring illegal renters out “from underground and get them in compliance and town’s are gonna have this whole new source of revenue.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That turned out just like we thought.”
Hartzheim said he’d get a letter to Jennrich advising him of the Minocqua Town Board’s position.
The Lake Tomahawk Town Board also had the request for input from Oneida County on the agenda for its meeting the following night but will revisit it at its February meeting.
The Oneida County planning and zoning department asked for input from individual towns be submitted by the end of February.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected].