OSCODA – Several amendments to Oscoda Township’s Zoning Ordinance 165 were approved by the board of trustees at their Nov. 25 meeting.
Officials also gave the go-ahead on a new code, which pertains to short-term rentals.
Zoning Administrator Lorna Ganci advised that there has been a public hearing on all of the code/ordinance amendments, and each proposed change was approved unanimously by the planning commission. They were also sent to the township attorney and the county for review and comment.
Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer said the planning commission subcommittee has been working on drafting this code for about the last six months.
He noted that while going through the process, discussions were held with the administration in AuSable Township, as well. “They have a similar framework for the short-term rentals.”
According to the document, the purpose of the new code is to require the registration and permitting of short-term renting of single family and duplex dwelling units.
All such rentals will be required to register with, and be permitted by, Oscoda Township, with permits valid for one calendar year. The code also details the violations, penalties and other items related to such operations.
It is written that these rentals provide the community a variety of lodging facilities for guests to utilize, support the local economy by increasing the number of visitors to the area and assist owners of short-term rentals by providing revenue which may be used for maintenance upgrades and deferred costs.
It is further noted that the associated provisions are necessary to prevent the continued burden placed upon county and township services and impacts on residents affected by such rentals.
The purpose of the code is to regulate short-term rentals by:
• Identifying the rentals of this kind in Oscoda Township.
• Lessening complaints involving excess noise, litter, disorderly conduct, overcrowding, traffic, congestion and parking.
• Making the enforcement and administration of existing ordinances easier, since the nature of the occupants are transitory.
• Assuring the preservation of the residential character of the community and the quality of life for all residents.
Treasurer Jaimie McGuire asked how this will impact local summertime cottages, as well as the housing which is rented to Kalitta Air employees in the winter months, for example.
Trustee William Palmer, who also serves on the planning commission, said this applies only to short-term, 31-day rentals.
He added that a company will be administering the plan, so, “The fees that we take in from this program will pay for that company to handle it.”
Supervisor Aaron Weed said that, as he understands it, this applies more to those renting out their own individual homes, such as through Airbnb.
This was confirmed by Palmer.
The code defines short-term rentals as the commercial use of renting a dwelling unit, or portion thereof, for a period of no more than 31 consecutive calendar days. This does not include approved bed and breakfast establishments, hotels/motels, tenant housing, campgrounds or resorts.
As for the “local agent,” this is defined as an individual who is designated to oversee the short-term rental of a dwelling unit, in accordance with the ordinance.
It is outlined that the local agent shall respond to calls from renters, concerned citizens and representatives of the township; live or maintain a place of business within 50 miles of the dwelling unit; be available 24 hours a day while the rental property is occupied; and respond within 60 minutes to any issue that may arise. A property owner who meets these criteria may also serve as the local agent.
According to Palmer, while there haven’t been any major issues in Oscoda, there have been problems with such rentals in other areas, which is why this plan was put into effect.
For instance, he said there have been cases where someone has rented their home out, thinking it will be used by a family of four or five people. A few days later, though, dozens of people arrive, parties are going on from sunup to sundown, the neighbors are complaining and so on.
“And, of course the owner of the property is not in the property, so they’re totally unaware of what’s going on,” he said, pointing to the new requirement that someone be nearby to address any problems.
Schaeffer augmented this, saying the township needs to have some parameters around how these rentals work.
The motion to approve the code passed in a 7-0 vote of trustees.
In another unanimous decision, the board adopted an ordinance amending the township’s fireworks code, to prohibit the use of sky lanterns in the municipality.
These items are described in the ordinance as small hot air balloons made of paper, with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended.
Special Land Uses
Trustees also cast a 7-0 vote to amend section 9.7 of Ordinance 165, pertaining to approval of special land uses.
Schaeffer said this change came about as a way to better identify how to handle anything in a site plan called “temporary.”
Palmer added that the planning commission subcommittee has handled some cases where language, such as the word temporary, is not a defined term.
“It’s subject to interpretation, and so the purpose of including this in a site plan review is that, if someone is requesting a site plan and they specify they want something temporary, we can define that at the time of the site plan,” he said. The applicant will then sign the documents, and everyone will have a clear understanding as to what temporary means.
Palmer said that what’s considered temporary for one business, for example, could be 30 days, but temporary to another person may be 120 days.
“So, by the time it gets to this board, it’s already decided?” asked Trustee Jim Baier.
Palmer answered yes, adding that it’s an agreement between both parties. It will be worked out between the applicant, what it is they want, and what the planning commission feels is reasonable.
Township officials then approved amending section 2.2 of the ordinance, Definitions, to add the word columbarium.
This is defined as a building, a vault, or a similar place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns containing cremated remains.
“We don’t have one of these in our community. Is anybody applying to build one, that we know of?” questioned Trustee Martin Gayeski.
Palmer said this was brought up by the community’s Veterans Memorial Park committee, which is why the planning commission is putting it in the Wurtsmith Business District (WB-3).
Columbariums as a Special Land Use
In related action, trustees supported amending the ordinance to add columbariums to the WB-3 District as a special land use.
Palmer pointed out that, since this is a special land use – as opposed to a permitted use – it will have to come before the planning commission for approval.
“So would these be treated like private cemeteries, or would they be under the administration of the township for cemetery purposes?” asked Clerk John Nordeen.
“What’s being proposed would be handled by the Veterans Memorial committee,” Palmer responded.
He said the planning commission would have to approve the site and what the applicant intends on doing there, adding that columbariums have become very popular.
Nordeen questioned if the structure, the spaces within same and the rights to bury remains in the structure would all be handled and administered by, in this case, the Veterans committee.
Palmer said they would have to have a site plan review by the planning commission, where the applicant would show how it’s going to be constructed, the setbacks and all the requirements for the building.
Distance Between Structures
In a 7-0 vote, the board approved an amendment to section 6.2.1(3) for use when measuring the distance between structures, and to lot lines.
Schaeffer said this has to do with detached accessory structures, and it further defines that there needs to be a minimum distance of 10 feet between the new accessory structure and the principal structure. Further, measurements are to be made from roof overhangs.
McGuire asked if there was a lot of this going on in the township, where it had to be addressed through an amendment.
Schaeffer said yes, since detached accessory structures are applied for often through the planning commission.
These are defined as free-standing garages or other accessory structures which have no physical connection to the principal structure.
For such structures that have been around for a number of years, McGuire asked if these will be grandfathered in, or if the owners will start receiving notices from the zoning department that they are no longer in compliance.
Palmer said if it already exists, it will be grandfathered in. “This would be for new construction, so it’s well-defined.”
Baier asked what would happen if somebody failed to note this change, constructs a detached accessory building and then finds out that it doesn’t meet the distance requirements.
Palmer explained that the applicants are made aware of the requirements, ahead of time, and when they get their permit they also receive a copy of the ordinance, so they know what needs to be done. “This isn’t a big secret. This isn’t something we keep under wraps. They’re well advised of what the requirements are.”
He added that, generally, the zoning administrator and code compliance officer go around and check on these sites from time to time during construction. Therefore, they would be able to catch it if they noticed something wasn’t being followed, as laid out by the planning commission in the site plan.
Furthermore, if someone is constructing a garage, for instance, the builder will have all of the related plans, specifications and blueprints, which is looked at by the planning commission. If there are any changes the group advises to be made, then this is carried out and they go from there, Palmer said.
A motion to amend section 6.2.4 of the ordinance, Accessory Structure Construction, was also approved unanimously by officials, to refer to the section on carports.
Schaeffer said this basically finalizes that a carport is not an accessory structure, and to reference the carports in the other section.
“They’re not allowed to have them; so that’s just cleaning up the ordinance?” McGuire asked, to which Palmer said they are, in fact, allowed.
“I guess I’m thinking of the cloth ones,” McGuire then noted, which Palmer confirmed are not allowed.
He added that there is an entire section on carports and how they are constructed, how they must be secured and so on.
Nordeen noted that this change makes it less restrictive, as opposed to more restrictive.
“So, as you can see, the planning commission has been busy trying to update this ordinance and make some corrections that have been needed for a long time,” Palmer pointed out to the board.
He said there is still a long way to go, but that the commission is plugging away at it, one at a time.