Planning commish kicks VRBOs to city council again

A not-quite-unanimous Park Rapids Planning Commission recommended adoption of the second version of the short-term rental ordinance on Aug. 24, after the first version fell short of city council approval in April.

This map (with north to the left), generated by the Hubbard County GIS office, uses shading to show the location of parcels along the Fish Hook River and the Heartland Trail most likely to be interested in offering short-term rentals. City Planner Andrew Mack noted that some parcels around Mud Lake should also be green, while Baywoods Condominium Owners Association does not allow its members to offer short-term rentals – making a total of about 280 eligible properties. (Courtesy of the City of Park Rapids)

The Park Rapids Planning Commission voted 5-1 on Monday to recommend city council approval of a second version of its long-studied short-term rental ordinance.

Commission member Bruce Johnson cast the dissenting vote after nobody showed up for the body’s third public hearing on the issue.

On April 30, the city council withheld approval of its second reading of the previous draft ordinance, referring it back to the planning commission for further review after local realtors and commission member Robb Swanson voiced concern about its language.

Based on their feedback and following further discussion in May and June and a second public hearing in May, the commission decided on July 27 to remove a buffering requirement from the ordinance and to change the permit from an administrative approval to an interim use permit (IUP), requiring a hearing before the planning commission.

During Monday’s hearing, Richard Bradow stepped aside from his role as chair of the commission to comment personally. He urged present and future members of the planning commission and city council to look carefully at requests for an interim use permit for a short-term rental, also known as vacation rental by owner (VRBO).


Observing that without a required buffer between VRBO permits, theoretically all 275 parcels running along the Fish Hook River, Mud Lake and the Heartland Trail within city limits could become short-term rentals.

“What would that do to a neighborhood?” he asked, adding that VRBOs are businesses unlike other home occupations. “How are you going to protect the R-1s?”

While he supported approval of the ordinance – “something is better than nothing” – Bradow urged city leaders to be careful what permit requests they approve or deny.

Commission member Bruce Johnson called this approach short-sighted and irresponsible. He argued that, because VRBO owners are absent, they won’t feel the effects of their decision to rent out their property short-term.

Johnson added that if the commission denies a permit request, “someone who had a lot of money could hire an attorney to come in and make the case that, because somebody else got it, they should be able to get it, and then you could have a party row.”

He called IUPs atypical of the city’s practice and possibly detrimental. He suggested revisiting the issue with another hearing, publicized on more highly read pages of the newspaper, with invitations mailed to owners of the 275 properties in the city identified as most likely to be interested in a VRBO.

City Planner Andrew Mack said this type of notification is not normal, but could be done if the commission desires it, though it would be expensive.

Other commissioners noted that, if the ordinance passes, any R-1 property owner in the city could apply for a VRBO permit.


Commission member Scott Hocking challenged limiting notification to the 275, adding that everybody deserves the same notice. “If they don’t read the paper and they’re not up to date, I’m sorry; that’s not for us to decide or us to choose,” he said.

Bradow also noted that neighbors within 350 feet of a subject parcel would be invited to any IUP hearing.

City council representative Liz Stone asked, “Why wouldn’t it be expected of us to send out individual letters and notices with every issue, every time?”

“Because this one is particularly touchy,” Johnson replied.

“To you,” said Stone.

Bradow said he would support the ordinance, but added, “Let’s see how this thing plays out. There’s always a possibility of a moratorium if we see this thing is going off the rails.”

Swanson made the motion to approve the ordinance amendment, and the motion carried.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
What To Read Next
Get Local