Local committee continues to discuss future of vacation rentals in Cook County
Restricting the number of vacation rentals in places like Lutsen, Tofte, and the Gunflint Trail is an idea that appears to be gaining momentum as the Cook County Vacation Rental Committee prepares for its final month of discussion on the future of the industry on the local level.
During an Aug. 15 meeting of the recently formed vacation rental committee, members of the group – consisting of community members, county officials, resort owners, short-term rental operators and others – agreed on the framework of process that could, in a sense, put a limit on the number of vacation rentals operating at any given time in Cook County.
Though not a strict ‘cap’ or a moratorium, the vacation rental committee agreed that a ‘trigger’ mechanism could be a valuable tool to potentially limit the number of vacation rentals to approximately 325 total units for all of Cook County. There are currently 270 licensed vacation rentals in Cook County, according to Land Services Director Tim Nelson. The notion of a ‘trigger’ essentially means the county will take action if the 325, or another predetermined figure, is reached when it comes to the number of licensed vacation rentals in Cook County, Nelson said. Such action could include setting a cap on the number of vacation rentals allowed in the county, or other similar policies and recommendations, he added.
“If we hit a certain number (of vacation rentals),” Nelson said, “whether it’s 300 or 325, that would trigger us to then look more closely at setting a limitation, or cap, on licenses that are issued.”
When it comes to vacation rentals in Cook County, much of the community discussion goes back to a lack of housing options for the local workforce and the rising cost of housing locally. What role vacation rentals play in these scenarios remains largely hypothetical, though many community members have an opinion on the topic. Information shared during the Aug. 15 meeting of the vacation rental committee regarding the total number of vacation rentals in Cook County adds perspective on the situation, Nelson said. During the meeting, County Assessor Bob Thompson told the committee and members of the public that between 2019, when the county started tracking the number of vacation rentals locally, and January of this year, there was a net decrease of one vacation rental overall throughout all of Cook County.
This fact seems to contradict the opinion of some community members who frequently blame vacation rentals as a reason for the lack of housing in Cook County, Nelson acknowledged.
“And yes, people are buying houses and converting them to vacation rentals. But there are also people that are buying vacation rentals and converting them to housing,” Nelson said. “So it was interesting, because you would think that a lot of the housing is being taken up by vacation rentals. And apparently, it’s about 5 percent of the housing stock that we have in the county.”
The Cook County Vacation Rental Committee is on pace to wrap up its discussion and subsequent recommendations to the county board in the weeks ahead. Nelson said the purpose of the vacation rental committee is not necessarily about trying to bring the opposing viewpoints community members have about vacation rentals to a unified space. Rather, he said, it’s about understanding how local oversight from county government can play a role in keeping the situation sustainable.
The next meeting of the Cook County Vacation Rental Committee is Monday, Aug. 29 from 3-5 p.m. at the courthouse in Grand Marais. The meeting is open to the public. It will be recorded and posted on the county’s YouTube page. The meeting will not be live streamed, according to county officials.