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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Council hears pushback over short-term rental recommendation

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/15/24

TOWER— A recommendation to prohibit short-term rentals in districts zoned residential here drew some pushback at Monday’s meeting of the Tower City Council. The city’s planning and …

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Council hears pushback over short-term rental recommendation


TOWER— A recommendation to prohibit short-term rentals in districts zoned residential here drew some pushback at Monday’s meeting of the Tower City Council. The city’s planning and zoning commission, which has been considering an ordinance change to address concerns about short-term rentals for more than a year, voted recently to recommend prohibiting the option in the city’s three residential zone districts as well the residential-transition zone along a portion of Main Street.
That recommendation didn’t sit well with Brenda Broten, who told the council she owns a duplex and operates it as an Airbnb and has done so for years without complaints. “I depend on those rentals for income,” Broten told the council. “It’s not fair to tell me I have to end my business,” she said.
Broten argued that the visitors who stay at her rental units spend a significant amount of money in town, buying gas, groceries, and going out to eat. And she said that the rules she’s put in place, such as no pets and no noise after ten, have helped to minimize conflict with neighbors.
Rachel Lockett, who owns a vacation home in North Star Addition with her family, said her family had stayed in the house before while visiting the area and decided to buy it when it came on the market a few years ago, even though it wasn’t really in their price range.
“So, we’ve used rental income to help cover some of the expenses,” said Lockett.
Since starting to rent it about a year and a half ago, Lockett said they’ve had 40 rentals, with an average group size of seven. She said it was their first experience with a short-term rental and they’ve been learning along the way, adjusting their rules as issues have arisen.
“Overall, our experience has been great,” she said, although she acknowledged a few instances where guests’ behavior had upset neighbors. She said the biggest problem came with a group of ATV riders, who got in a shouting match with a neighbor that later escalated and resulted in a complaint to the city council last year that prompted the consideration of an ordinance change. She said she and her husband added language to their manual to help reduce any potential conflicts and said it’s been quiet with neighbors since.
Local realtor Sherry Anderson said she recognized that there has to be a balance between maintaining permanent housing for families versus short-term rentals for visitors, but suggested grandfathering in existing rental units at a minimum.
Council member Joe Morin, who serves as well on planning and zoning, said he appreciated the feedback and said the city hasn’t made any final decision, nor is it taking the issue lightly. “Everything is on the table at this point,” he said.
During later discussion, Morin and Mayor Dave Setterberg differed on their reading of the city’s zoning ordinance, with Setterberg arguing that the ordinance doesn’t currently prohibit short-term rentals, while Morin argued that the ordinance doesn’t expressly permit them, either. Morin agreed that he’d take the issue back to planning and zoning, with the next meeting set for Tuesday, May 28.
In other business, the council gave conditional approval to a proposal from JPJ Engineering to conduct intensive hydrogeological testing at the Breitung sand pit to determine if it would be a suitable site for a rapid infiltration basin, which is a relatively new technology used for wastewater treatment. JPJ’s current estimate puts the price tag for such a system at $1.7 million, which is about half the anticipated cost of adding a fourth treatment pond to the Tower-Breitung wastewater system. The rapid infiltration system would potentially be able to treat about 25 million gallons of wastewater annually, or about half of the current wastewater flow to the three existing ponds.
Funding for the project could be available depending on the outcome of the legislative session. The House tax bill currently includes $3 million for water projects in Tower and Soudan. While most of that is earmarked for the new drinking water treatment plant, some of it may be available to pay for a portion of a rapid infiltration basin. As previously reported, it appears the city has been awarded $1 million in congressionally directed spending to pay to expand the Tower-Breitung wastewater treatment capacity to accommodate new development. But the rules surrounding that federal money are complex and the city won’t move forward with any work on the project until it has been assured the funds can be expended.
While the council approved the testing, which would be done by Braun Intertec, and related reports by JPJ, they made the approval for about $50,000 in spending contingent on incorporating suggested changes to the agreement by the city attorney and confirmation that the approved federal funding would cover the expense.
In related action, the council approved a professional services agreement with SEH for work on the drinking water treatment plant. The city and township remain hopeful that the $3 million in the House tax bill will make it into the final measure. If so, the remaining funding gap on the $10.7 million project will be filled. The funding plan includes a $1 million loan from the Public Facilities Authority, which would be paid for through water rates to customers.
In other business, the council:
• Briefly discussed the bond issue for the purchase of the county public works facility. Clerk-treasurer Michael Schultz noted that residents had not submitted a petition requesting a referendum on the bond issue, which allows the city to move forward. He said the city did reach out to Frandsen Bank and Trust to see if they were interested in purchasing the bond before it goes out to the general market.
• Heard from Schultz that the city received about 55 housing surveys out of the 270 they mailed out and that Breitung township had a few more than that. He said the technical advisory committee working on housing would be tabulating the results.
• Approved a revised version of the ambulance contribution agreement.
• Discussed but took no action on the re-establishment of a city charter commission to review possible changes to the charter.
• Set May 17 and 18 as a community clean-up day that will focus on public spaces. Volunteers are welcome and can call city hall at 218-753-4070 to volunteer. While past clean-up efforts included private property as well, council member Bob Anderson suggested the city would benefit most from focusing on public spaces. He suggested creating a request form that those who need extra assistance to address blight on their property could fill out and give to city hall to request help.
• At the request of Morin, approved a joint powers agreement with the St. Louis County School District establishing a school forest on the hill north of town. “Thank you, Joe, for all the work you’ve done on this,” said Setterberg.
• Approved a motion authorizing Morin to continue to gather information on the possibility of creating a local housing trust fund that would be able to accept donations for housing-related purposes. Morin said the state is currently matching contributions to such funds on a 50-50 basis.
• Approved annual cigarette sale licenses to the following for the next year: Bob’s Standard, D’Ericks Tower Liquor, Vermilion Fuel and Food, and Zup’s grocery.
• Approved annual liquor licenses to the following for next year: Good Ol’ Days, D’Ericks, and Benchwarmers.
• Authorized the hiring of Steve Freshour, contingent on achieving required certification, as a new member of the Tower Fire Department. Freshour is currently an EMT with the Tower Ambulance Service.
• Authorized the hiring of Julianna Krueger as a new EMT with the Tower Ambulance Service, contingent on a background check on appropriate documentation.
• Authorized Schultz and city maintenance supervisor Ben Velcheff to decide the hiring of a part-time seasonal worker from the two applicants who expressed interest.
• Approved the purchase of a lightly-used John Deere X350 tractor for $2,000 for use by the cemetery association.