Friction increases over residential rentals

Leslie Silverman

The Hill City Planning and Zoning Commission took a hard stance toward nightly vacation rentals by tabling a request for a conditional use permit for an application at 760 Bishop Mountain Rd. The move came at its July 6 meeting.
However, a subsequent motion by Rollie Noem ultimately granted the application begging the question of “with the ordinances as they are right now, does this request violate them?” Noem went so far as to ask the commission if what they are really after is a moratorium, not a change in the town’s ordinances.
“Then there should be some kind of official action to place a moratorium or something,” he said.
The commission had discussed a moratorium at one point but the process to achieve that would have taken too long, it was decided. Yet  identifying the correct ordinance for the town has now taken several months and as member Angie Ross pointed out “we’re already short on homes so that every time we OK a house to be built or turned into a vacation home we’re shorting the city.”
Mayor Kathy Skorzewski spoke on the matter as a resident of the town.
“The role you play in this city is one of administering the rules. Just like Mr. Noem had stated, what are the rules? That’s  what you need to administer,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a person here who bought a house in a residential area who considered it a place where commercial transactions or businesses would be being done. You’re literally changing what  the intention of what property and what that zoning itself is.”
The fight between nightly vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods and residents who want to preserve Hill City’s community and zoning laws have reached such a contentious level that Ross herself was accosted at a recent working committee meeting.
“After what happened to me last Thursday I don’t want to put myself in a position where we’re gonna have like the witch hunt where we can be abused,” she said.
Ross was suggesting that working committee meetings be controlled; the public has been invited to several open meetings and  will have another opportunity for discussion when it reaches the city council.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is asking the Hill City Council to consider a moratorium or a temporary zoning ordinance at its next meeting. The item will likely be on as a  discussion item. It will also be placed on the next Planning and Zoning Commission agenda to reach group consensus on the topic.
The Bishop Mountain property’s conditional use permit was approved and moves to city council with stipulations of no camping and of off-street parking only. The owner, who was present at the meeting, lives in East River and plans on renting the property at times during the summer so that it does not just sit idle.
The Planning and Zoning Commission upheld the new ordinance on transient merchants by not approving an application for a tent to be placed at Lot AB, Main St. Several community members, including Mackenzie Swanson, were vehemently opposed to the application.
“The ordinance is incredibly  clear because we put it in place for this exact reason,” Swanson said. “As a resident  myself and it being in the main business district I don’t think a tent  fits what we’re trying to do here as a  community. When we think  about the comprehensive plan, when I think about my kid growing up here and me growing up here, a tent on our Main Street doesn’t fit the vision.”
The owner was not present, although his legal counsel was. And while his counsel did state the owner provides restrooms and trash collection, most present disagreed. The lot sits vacant when a tent is not up. Last year the owner’s tent was up for several months.
“His business model,”   according to planning and zoning president Ron Walker, seems to be “tents here, tents in Custer, tents in Sturgis.”
The matter, although not recommended by planning and zoning, will still  be heard by the city council.
The proposed business registry ordinance was discussed at length. Member Connie Wolters made her vision clear by repeatedly stating her desire to have a business license versus registry. She gave fellow board members an article highlighting the need for licenses.
Still, the commission discussed the registry at length, deciding what information should be collected and who would have access to it. Most of the discussion centered around giving the ordinance “teeth” by enacting a monetary penalty for failure to register a business or  renew a business within a 30-day period ending Jan. 31. The proposed penalty will be $500. And while nonprofits will be exempt from the $25 registration fee, the penalty will apply to them as well. The registry  is specifically for emergency situations.
“The whole conversation came about on a business registry because of the pandemic,” said Dani Schade, the city’s development service administrator.

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