Welcome to everyone who is new to this newsletter! Before every Council meeting, I write up my own summary of each agenda item and try to pull details that I think are most relevant to understanding them. My hope is that these summaries can help residents keep track of what City Council is doing. For issues that matter to you, I encourage you to follow links (next to each agenda item) to the City's Legistar website, where you can find all the background information.
This week’s agenda is extremely long: 24 items on the Consent Agenda and six public hearings for ordinances to be approved at "second reading." We also consider five ordinance amendments at "first reading," including changes to the City’s early leasing ordinance (C-1) and the Short Term Rental (STR) ordinance (C-4 and C-5). I wrote about the STR ordinance in my "Additional Thoughts" section below.
The proposed changes to the early leasing ordinance (C-1, first reading) might be adjusted before our meeting in order to improve enforcement mechanisms. I wrote about this, as well as the "Fair Chance Ordinance" (B-4, second reading) in a previous newsletter:
Last Monday, I received the second dose of the Moderna vaccine at Ford Field in Detroit. Because I teach preschool, I was able to participate in a Meijer-sponsored effort to vaccinate teachers and childcare workers last month. I want to share my experience because I know many of you anticipate a second dose and might be curious: I had no immediate reaction to the second dose when I received it in the morning and I had a normal afternoon. However, the following day I felt badly for about eight hours - muscle aches, sustained a fever over 101 - and rested in bed. That was all and I feel fine now. I am very happy to be vaccinated. I encourage everyone to find appointments wherever you can!
Many of you - like me - may have just enjoyed a spring break week off of school. Because the rest of my family is not yet vaccinated (and travel still feels unsafe) we spent this week at home. I did a lot of walking around the City this week - if you live in Ward 4, I may have walked up your street!
Residents in need of financial help during this crisis (e.g. to avoid eviction, pay utility bills, cover emergency medical expenses) can find resources at this link:
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Virtual Coffee Hours
Sunday Apr 4th 3:00pm
During the COVID-19 crisis I have been holding "virtual" coffee hours with Zoom on Sunday afternoons before scheduled City Council meetings. Please email me for a link:
Sunday Apr 4th 6:00pm
We have been holding Council Caucus on Sunday nights before Council meetings since March 2019. All Council Members are invited to participate.
City Council Regular Meeting
Monday Apr 5th 7:00pm
My summary of this Council meeting agenda is posted below in this newsletter.
City Council Work Session
Monday Apr 13th 7:00pm
This is a scheduled work session, but does not yet have an agenda posted.
Note that Council is still meeting "virtually" using the Zoom application. Video feeds of Council meetings are broadcast on CTN and YouTube. Public comment is audio only using dial-in numbers. Please check the Legistar link for the latest information.
A2ELNEL.com Website Updates
In addition to writing this newsletter, I post updates to my website with my perspectives on how issues were resolved at City Council and details on how Council voted at each meeting. I also post information about meetings and issues that affect Ward 4 residents, along with news that affects all city residents.
You can see a listing of all my posts here: https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/
City Council Voting Chart for Mar 15, 2021
Downtown Weekend Street Closures April 1 to Aug 30, 2021
Last month City Council approved weekend downtown street closures from 4 PM Thursday through 6 AM Monday, which will run from Thursday April 1 through Monday August 30, 2021. These closures allow restaurants and retail businesses adjacent or near to the closed streets to use the street for seating and sales.
Curbside Compost Collection Resumes April 5, 2021
Curbside compost collection resumes this week.
Road and Sidewalk Projects Planned for 2021
The City announced road, sidewalk, and asphalt path projects planned for 2021.
Ann Arbor City Hall building closure extended to end of April
The closure of City Hall has been extended to the end of April to allow more time for the vaccine to penetrate into the community and among city employee groups. The city anticipates reopening city hall in the late spring or summer.
City accepting nominations for Golden Paintbrush Awards until April 30th
The Ann Arbor Public Art Commission's is accepting nominations for the annual Golden Paintbrush Award.
City Information on 17 Year Cicada Emergence in May/June 2021
The City forestry department has put together information about the 17-Year Cicada emergence that will happen in May/June of 2021, including information on protecting young small trees.
A2COUNCIL Updates (A2COUNCIL.com)
For anyone interested in understanding and analyzing the recent work of Council, I have created a resource at A2COUNCIL.com with summaries of issues and direct links to City documents. For each City Council meeting since November 2018, you can find links to the City's Legistar website, CTN's YouTube video, and links to my newsletters and voting charts. I have listed agenda items of interest from each meeting, along with articles I've written and articles published on MLive.
Council Meeting Agenda 4/5/21
Below is my summary of some issues on the City Council Agenda this week, with links to more information about each of them. If you have comments about any of these issues, feel free to email me at my official City email: ENelson@A2gov.org
The full agenda (including a link to the latest published PDF agenda) can be found on the A2Gov Legistar website:
Ann Arbor City Council Monday Apr 5th (7:00pm) Electronic Meeting
City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99). They are also streamed live on YouTube and Viebit: https://www.youtube.com/user/ctnannarbor
Questions to the Agenda
In preparation for a Council meeting, Council members can ask questions of staff about scheduled agenda items. Questions must be submitted by noon on the Wednesday before a Council Meeting, and answers are returned the next day (Thursday) by 5pm.
AC-2 (21-0683) Agenda Response Memo and eComments - April 5, 2021
This agenda item has a PDF attachment with all questions raised by Council Members, and the answers provided by staff.
Communications from Council
CC-1 (21-0576) Resolution to Appoint Deaver Armstrong to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission
This nomination is from CM Grand, who serves on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. This will be voted on at the next Council meeting.
Deaver Armstrong - Greenbelt Advisory Commission
Communications from the Mayor
MC-1 (21-0459) Nominations and Appointments - Confirmations
This nomination from the Mayor is being introduced at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.
Deanna Boer - Ann Arbor Housing Commission
Below is the list of items included on the Consent Agenda. If no one on Council specifically requests that an item be pulled for discussion, the whole of this list will be approved in a single vote. I encourage you to look at this list and offer suggestions to me about anything you would like to see pulled for discussion.
CA-1 (21-0241) Resolution to Appropriate and Amend the FY21 General Fund Budget for Technical Support Related to the Gelman Litigation ($10,000.00) (8 Votes Required)
CA-2 (21-0347) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order with CDW-G, LLC to Replace the Process and Information Control System Computers at the Wastewater Treatment Plant ($45,604.89)
CA-3 (21-0538) Resolution to Approve Amendment No. 1 to the Professional Services Agreement with Stantec Consulting Michigan, Inc., for Water Treatment Professional Engineering Services ($350,000.00 increase, total contract $850,000.00)
CA-4 (21-0435) Resolution to Award a Two (2) Year Contract for Right-of-Way Mowing and Landscaping Services to RNA Facilities Management, ITB-4662 ($122,918.00 annually; $245,836.00 for two years)
CA-5 (21-0440) Resolution to Award a Construction Contract to Doan Construction Company for the South Industrial Highway Concrete Pavement Repair Project ($1,071,197.58)
CA-6 (21-0451) Resolution to Approve Construction Contract Change Order No. 1 with CB Asphalt Paving for Street Cut and Miscellaneous Pavement Repair - ITB No. 4624 ($500,000.00 increase, total contract $1,000,000.00)
CA-7 (21-0473) Resolution to Establish the Newport/Sunset Sidewalk Gap Project Budget and Appropriate $120,000.00 (8 Votes Required)
CA-8 (21-0479) Resolution to Authorize a Sole Source Purchase Order to Siemens Mobility, Inc. for Central Traffic Signal Management Software Maintenance and Upgrade in the Amount of $54,000.00
CA-9 (21-0613) Resolution to Authorize Acquisition of Easements for the LynAnne-Arbana Sewer Project (aka Huron West Park Sanitary Sewer, Phases 2 and 3) (8 Votes Required)
CA-10 (21-0439) Resolution to Approve the Purchase of Vehicle Upfitting Parts from Cruisers Inc. for a 27 Month Period (ITB #4663; Not To Exceed $120,000.00 per FY)
CA-11 (21-0412) Resolution to Approve the Professional Services Agreement with Ann Arbor Architects Collaborative, Inc. for Architectural / Engineering Services for New Fire Station 4 ($451,100.00)
CA-12 (21-0443) Resolution to Approve an Assignment of and Amendment to the City’s Agreement with New World Systems Corp. to Tyler Technologies, Inc. for 5-year Software Support and Maintenance of the City’s Logos.net Financial System FY2021-FY2025 ($291,589.00)
CA-13 (21-0525) Resolution to Renew a Contract with Passport Labs, Inc. (“Passport”), Formerly Known as Complus Data Innovations, Inc., for Parking Enforcement Hardware, Software and Services for FY22, FY23 and Subsequent Fiscal Years ($350,000).
CA-14 (21-0588) Resolution to Approve the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the DeForest Property in Superior Township, Approve a Participation Agreement with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Appropriate $270,992?.00 (8 Votes Required)
CA-15 (21-0587) Resolution to Approve the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the Fishbeck Property in Superior Township, Approve a Participation Agreement with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Appropriate $275,542?.00 (8 Votes Required)
CA-16 (21-0568) Resolution to Approve Participation in the Purchase of a Conservation Easement on the Rosko Property in Scio Township, Approve a Participation Agreement with Scio Township and Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Appropriate $244,000.00 (8 Votes Required)
CA-17 (21-0569) Resolution to Approve a Participation Agreement with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and Scio Township and Appropriate $31,667.00 for Purchase of Fee Title to the Rouse Property (8 Votes Required)
CA-18 (21-0573) Resolution to Approve a Participation Agreement with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and Scio Township and Appropriate $44,167.00 for Purchase of Fee Title to the Wiseley-Fix Property (8 Votes Required)
CA-19 (21-0622) Resolution to Close East Washington Street between Fletcher Street and North Thayer for the University of Michigan Public Art Mural Honoring the STAMPS Graduating Class of 2021 on Sunday, April 25, 2021 (12:00 AM) through Sunday, May 2, 2021 (11:59 PM)
CA-20 (21-0611) Resolution to Accept a Sanitary Sewer Easement at 2873 Packard Road from Hilda E. Ward (8 Votes Required)
CA-21 (21-0598) Resolution Authorizing Water Capital Recovery Charges for 1902 Long Shore Dr. ($2,696.00)
CA-22 (21-0599) Resolution Authorizing Sanitary Sewer Capital Recovery Charges for 1902 Long Shore Dr. ($5,982.00)
CA-23 (21-0484) Resolution to Increase the Purchase Order for Hylant Administrative Services, LLC, for Third-Party Claims Administration Services from $35,000/Year to $50,000/Year
CA-24 (21-0449) Resolution to Approve the February 19, 2021 Recommendation of the Board of Insurance Administration to Deny the Claim and Subsequent Appeal Filed by Claimant Laurie Lounsbury for a Sewer Backup Claim (CC040-20)
Anyone wanting to comment on these issues may speak for 3 minutes, without having specifically reserved time. Issues subject to public hearing will also be up for a vote by Council later in the meeting.
PH-1/B-1 (21-0050) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Rezoning of 6.58 Acres from R4A (Multiple-Family Dwelling District) to PL (Public Land District), Oakwoods Nature Area Addition, 3382 Green Road (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 9 Yeas and 0 Nays) (ORD-21-02)
An area of 6.58 acres at 3382 Green Road will be rezoned from R4A (Multiple-Family Dwelling District) to Public Land District and added to the Oakwood Nature Area.
PH-2/B-2 (21-0051) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Rezoning of 8.48 Acres from R1A (Single-Family Dwelling District) to PL (Public Land District), Ruthven Nature Area Addition, 3301 Geddes Road (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 9 Yeas and 0 Nays) (ORD-21-03)
An area of 8.48 acres at 3301 Geddes Road will be rezoned from R1A (Single-family dwelling district) to Public Land District and added to the Ruthven Nature Area.
PH-3/B-3 (21-0170) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning) of 1.55 Acres from TWP (Township District) to R1A (Single-Family Dwelling District), 2511 Newport Road (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 9 Yeas and 0 Nays) (ORD-21-04)
An area of 1.55 acres (previously annexed into the City) will be rezoned from Township district to R1A (Single-family district).
PH-4/B-4 (21-0352) An Ordinance to Add Chapter 122 (Fair Chance Access to Housing) to Title IX of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-21-06)
Criminal history will not be permitted as a determining factor in access to rental housing. An application for rental housing shall not require an applicant to disclose criminal history or authorize release of criminal history. I wrote about this ordinance in my Feb 27th newsletter, excerpted here:
PH-5/B-5 (21-0419) An Ordinance to Amend Section 9:46 of Chapter 107 (Animals - Dog Licenses) of Title Ix of The Code of The City of Ann Arbor (ORD-21-08)
Amendments to the dog licensing ordinance will allow the sale of tags with year-round expiration dates that correspond to the month of a rabies vaccination. One year and three year licenses will be sold (two year license would be eliminated). Fees remain the same.
PH-6/B-6 (21-0478) An Ordinance to Amend Section 4.60 of Chapter 47 (Streets) of Title IV of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-21-09)
For the first citation of a season, the penalty for failure to comply with our snow removal ordinance would be reduced from $100 to $60. The snow removal ordinance requires making sidewalks, walks, and ramps free of snow and ice for their entire constructed width and length within 24 hours of a snowfall greater than one inch.
Ordinances - Second Reading
In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances were approved at a previous Council meeting, and are also subject to a public hearing as listed above.
B-1 (21-0050) is the same as PH-1 above.
B-2 (21-0051) is the same as PH-2 above.
B-3 (21-0170) is the same as PH-3 above.
B-4 (21-0352) is the same as PH-4 above.
B-5 (21-0419) is the same as PH-5 above.
B-6 (21-0478) is the same as PH-6 above.
Ordinances - First Reading
In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances are being introduced for approval. If approved, the ordinance will be voted on at a subsequent Council meeting, where it will also be subject to a public hearing.
C-1 (21-0640) An Ordinance to Amend Section 8:530 of Chapter 105 (Housing: Entry to Show Premises and Time for Rental Agreements) of Title VIII (Building Regulations) of the Ann Arbor City Code
Amendments to our early leasing ordinance will change a standard from 70 days to 240 days. A landlord would not be permitted to enter a leased premises for the purpose of showing it to prospective tenants or enter into a contract for a subsequent lease sooner than 240 days into a current lease. I wrote about this ordinance in my Feb 27th newsletter, excerpted here:
C-2 (21-0533) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Rezoning of 1.1 Acres from TWP (Township District) to R1A (Single Family Dwelling District), 3411 Geddes Road (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 6 Yeas and 0 Nays)
A recently annexed parcel (1.1 acres) at 3411 Geddes Road will be rezoned from TWP (Township District) to R1A (Single Family Dwelling District).
C-3 (21-0422) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning) of 3.56 Acres from TWP (Township District) to R1B (Single-Family Dwelling District), 2260 Traver Road (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 7 Yeas and 0 Nays)
A recently annexed parcel (3.56 acres) at 2260 Traver Road will be rezoned from TWP (Township District) to R1B (Single-Family Dwelling District).
C-4 (21-0539) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 7:651 and 7:654 of Chapter 97 (Short-Term Rentals) of Title VII of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor
This amendment removes language from the short-term-rental (STR) ordinance that clarifies licensing by type. It removes explanation that STR licenses for a “non-principal residence” (i.e. investment property) are only permitted in areas of the City zoned for mixed use. Also removed: language clarifying that STR licenses for a principal residence (i.e. owner occupied, whole house or homestay) may be issued in both residential and mixed-use zoning districts. See my "Additional Thoughts" sections below.
C-5 (21-0537) An Ordinance to Amend Table 5.15-1, Table 5.15-2, Sections 5.33, 5.37.2.P and 5.37.2.S, of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Short Term Rentals) (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 8 Yeas and 1 Nay)
Permitted Use and Accessory Use tables in our City code would be amended to include types of Short Term Rental (non-principal residence and principal residence) and place them in zoning districts. Non-principal residence (investment) properties in existence before March 1, 2021 would qualify as a “legal non-conforming use” and allowed to continue indefinitely. New investment properties would be prohibited in residential areas moving forward. See my "Additional Thoughts" sections below.
Motions and Resolutions
The following agenda items are motions and resolutions, which are approved or rejected in a single meeting. Agenda items marked "DC" are proposed by Council members, items marked "DB" are proposed by City boards and commissions, items marked "DS" are proposed by City staff.
DC-1 (21-0554) Resolution to Appoint Mark Perry to the Airport Advisory Committee (7 Votes Required)
This nomination from the Mayor was introduced at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. 7 votes are required because the "appointee is not a registered elector of the City of Ann Arbor".
Mark Perry - Airport Advisory Commission
DC-2 (21-0009) Resolution in Support of the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality’s (PCCN) Recommendations
This resolution expresses support for recommendations from the University of Michigan President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN). Recommendations include reductions in emissions and goals for carbon neutrality (exclusive of offsets) by 2040.
DC-3 (21-0612) Resolution Directing the City Administrator to Develop an Unarmed Public Safety Response Program
The City Administrator is directed to either establish a program of Subject Matter Expert response for public safety (in collaboration with Washtenaw County, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office, “Subject Matter Agencies” and in consultation with the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission) or report on obstacles and ideas for overcoming them by December 31, 2021. The City Administrator may hire a consultant to help in this process and he is directed to include this endeavor in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
DC-4 (21-0617) Resolution Condemning Hate Crimes, Hateful Rhetoric, and Hateful Acts against Asians and Asian Americans, Encouraging Ann Arbor Residents to Report Hate Crimes and Harassment to the Proper Authorities
The City of Ann Arbor condemns hate crimes, hateful rhetoric, hateful acts against Asians and Asian Americans, white terrorism and white supremacism in all forms. The City encourages Asians and Asian Americans to report harassment, hate crimes, and discrimination to the Ann Arbor Police Department, the City’s Human Rights Commission, and/or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
DC-5 (21-0642) Resolution Directing the City Attorney to Review City Ordinances Relating to Police Enforcement
The City Attorney would be directed to review criminal ordinances that are enforced by the Ann Arbor Police Department and identify ordinance amendments that would be consistent with goals of the 2021 State Criminal Justice Reform Legislation and the general “spirit of progressive criminal justice reform.” Recommended ordinance amendments will be presented to Council before November 15, 2021.
DC-6 (21-0645) Resolution to Appoint Marti Praschan as the City of Ann Arbor Controller and Chief Financial Officer
Marti Praschan, currently serving as the Chief of Staff for the Public Services Area, is appointed City of Ann Arbor Controller and Chief Financial Officer, effective April 6, 2021.
Item C-4 and C-5 on this week’s agenda would amend a recent City ordinance regulating short-term-rentals (STR) such as AirBnB. As approved in September 2020, that ordinance outlines a system of licensing for all STR uses, including “principal residence” properties where, for example, homeowners rent their whole house or part of their house for football weekends. Those owner-occupied STR's are permitted in all residential areas. The ordinance prohibited "non-principal residence" (i.e. investment property) STR’s in residentially zoned areas; those STR’s would only be permitted in “mixed-use” zoning districts.
This week’s proposed amendments (C-4 and C-5) will identify short-term-rental as a new category of permitted use within our code. Notably, they include special reference to “legal non-conforming use,” protecting the investments of people who can provide evidence that they operated non-principal residence STR’s in residential neighborhoods prior to March 1, 2021: investment STR businesses already established in residential neighborhoods will continue operation as a “legal non-conforming use” for as long as any owner of that property maintains the use.
This month, Mayor Taylor told the Ann Arbor Observer that the STR ordinance approved in September 2020 was a “mess” in need of fixing up. In defense of City staff expertise and community interest: I strongly disagree with this assessment. The current ordinance was recommended by the City staff that would be tasked with enforcement, drafted by City attorneys, and approved after months of community debate and discussion. I would argue that proposed amendments are a much bigger “mess.” If Council approves the amendments in C-5, we enrich a small number of investors and the City loses an unknown number of housing units that should function as long-term rentals or owner-occupied residences. This policy directly conflicts with every housing goal and related public interest professed by a majority of Council.
BY THE NUMBERS
Last month, the City sent thousands of postcards to residential landlords in town, asking them to self-identify as STR businesses before March 31. The City has already received notice that 120 STR businesses exist in residential neighborhoods but there could be many more. Staff has no deadline beyond which they will stop applying this special status to new properties (“determination can happen at any time”). The City has no idea how many total properties might eventually qualify for this special status.
The special status is significant: a “legal non-conforming use” may continue indefinitely. It attaches to the property (not the owner). So long as the use continues, it is a permitted use even if it is sold or transferred to someone else. In December 2020, a majority of Council argued that exceptions and special status were a matter of “fairness” so that current STR investors would not be forced out of the business and suffer financial loss. This week, we consider giving those investors a serious windfall: the proposed amendments give a relatively small number of current investors (and every future owner of the property) a huge competitive advantage. A limited number of STR investment properties will be even more profitable as ongoing businesses with reduced competition. The “legal non-conforming use” also enriches any STR investor who chooses to sell: the special status and unique profit opportunity makes the property more valuable to buyers.
In discussing this topic, City Planning Commission contemplated one specific scenario: a “bad actor” STR investor who manages to lose their City license to operate an STR (e.g. a property that has become a public nuisance). One commissioner asked: if a license is revoked on a property that qualifies as a legal non-conforming use, is that status preserved for the benefit of a future owner who wants to run an STR? The answer to that question: yes, if the property is transferred to someone else who can license the STR use within one year. In other words, identifying problem properties and revoking licenses won’t reduce the number of STR investment properties. Instead, it will simply incentivize the transfer of those properties to someone else (e.g. a family member, a business partner) because any future owner can maintain that exceptional status, for significant profit.
The marketable value of these STR businesses and the durability of this “legal non-conforming use” (beyond sale and even after a license is revoked) means that the numbers will not dwindle by “attrition.” The likelihood of these business properties (note: an unknown number of properties, greater than 120) ever going “off line” and returning to our housing supply as a traditional long-term rental or owner-occupied residence is slim to none.
The proposed amendments presume that the short-term-rental businesses in residential areas were legal before Council passed an ordinance regulating them. A few of my colleagues (including the Mayor) have suggested that recent court decisions might invalidate our ordinance. Owners of STR businesses threaten to sue the City and those investors cite one case in particular - Reaume v. Spring Lake - as decisive proof that the Ann Arbor ordinance is invalid. To make sense of this issue, it’s important to understand the timeline of events:
Mar 18, 2019
Council approved a resolution asking for analysis of potential STR regulation
May 21, 2019
Michigan Court of Appeals affirms the right of Spring Lake Township, Michigan to prohibit short-term rentals in residential areas (Reaume v. Spring Lake).
Oct 6-10-12, 2019
Consultants held three public meetings at Ann Arbor library locations to discuss STR regulation.
Jan 6, 2020
City staff recommended regulation based on type: principal residence/owner-occupied and investment properties/businesses. Staff advised that a dedicated short-term-rental investment property is a commercial business and does not belong in residential districts: a short-term tenant is not a “resident.” Based on this advice, Council directed staff to craft an ordinance that would license all STR’s and restrict the location of investment STR’s.
Jun 5, 2020
The Michigan Supreme Court concludes that short term rental was not a permitted use of a single-family dwelling, partially affirming and partially vacating the ruling of Reaume v. Spring Lake based on the phrasing of definitions in the local Spring Lake ordinance and zoning code.
Aug 6, 2020
Consideration of the STR ordinance was postponed to give legal staff time to assess whether STR investment properties were a “legal nonconforming use” in residential areas.
Sep 8, 2020
Council approved an STR ordinance drafted by City attorneys (in collaboration with staff) that would prohibit non-owner-occupied STR’s in residential neighborhoods of the City. Enforcement was delayed to March 1, 2021 in order to give investors time to transition out of the business.
Note that our City attorneys were well aware of (and advised Council about) Reaume v. Spring Lake before approval of the September ordinance. Because that case rests on local code definitions - definitions in Spring Lake township code that are very different from definitions found in local Ann Arbor code - there is room to argue how that precedent may or may not apply.
For example, Ann Arbor code meaningfully describes the purpose and intent of residential zoning to provide an environment explicitly for residents, not visitors. Our local UDC 5.11.2(A) describes residential districts as an environment of “dwellings, along with other related facilities that serve the residents in the district such as schools, recreational facilities, Parks, and Religious Assembly.”
This description from our local code is very close to my own reasoning for why non-owner occupied STRs do not belong in residential areas: the most profitable locations for STR investment happen to be the very same places where year-round residents can most benefit from convenient access to amenities in our community. Residential neighborhoods nearest downtown and nearest the Stadium present huge profit opportunities for STR investment because they are wonderfully convenient for tourists. However, those locations offer a higher community value when occupied by long-term renters or owners who can take advantage of that convenience day-to-day: adults walking to jobs downtown or classes on campus and children walking to elementary schools or parks.
TAKING A STAND
Progressive local advocates point out how full-time, dedicated STRs impact housing affordability: the profitability of short-term-rental investments deplete housing supply and drive up housing costs for residents. Legal precedents like Reaume v Spring Lake exist precisely because communities enact public policies and defend them. City attorneys crafted the original STR ordinance well after that case and fully aware of its potential implications. A majority of Council at that time recognized the importance of implementing the policy. Former Council Member Zachary Ackerman explained:
When we say short-term rentals account for only 0.2% of housing units, we’re talking about well over 100 units of housing today. That’s 300 bedrooms that are no longer available to community members.
The threat of a lawsuit should not deter us from enacting policy in the best interest of the community. Everything about the STR issue - availability of housing units for residents, market pressures that drive up housing prices, potential nuisance in quiet neighborhoods - should matter to us enough to take a stand. I hope that a majority of my colleagues will choose to take a stand this week.
Thank you for helping me represent Ward 4!
Elizabeth Nelson ENelson@A2gov.org
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