Michigan vacation town New Buffalo changes Airbnb approach

Versie Dortch

Last month, New Buffalo’s Planning Commission rejected two proposed ordinances aimed at curbing the number of short-term rentals, the kind of accommodations often available on apps like Airbnb and Vrbo.

The city says that prohibiting new permits in these three districts will allow New Buffalo to continue considering whether and how to issue additional permits in the future, according to a staff memo. Since 2020, New Buffalo has been under a moratorium on new permits for short-term rentals.

The council will vote again on the proposal at the next meeting Oct. 18.

About 10 residents spoke at last night’s meeting, most of them homeowners in the town of about 1,700 and most of them opposed to the ordinances. Some called for the council to collect more data on the economic impact of short-term rentals and nuisance complaints. City Manager Darwin Watson said he will compile all the research and data the city has and provide it to residents at a town hall meeting on Oct. 12.

Last night’s discussion was tense. Mayor John Humphrey, who was elected in November, asked that Laura Murray, a Downers Grove CPA who owns a second home in New Buffalo, be escorted out of the building after he said she directly challenged the council.

“I’m asking on behalf of the residents of New Buffalo that both of these resolutions be voted down,” Murray said in her remarks. “I ask that the board take the advice of the Planning Commission and come up with alternatives that will be more equitable to both the long-term residents and the property owners who choose to rent their property out on a short-term basis.”

She said, “The perception has been created that is about a power-hungry mayor whose personal vendetta against…” before she was cut off by Humphrey pounding a gavel and asking the police officer on-site to lead her out of the building.

Others walked out of the meeting, telling the council they should be ashamed of themselves.

Humphrey previously told Crain’s he’s against short-term rentals because they drive up home prices and push out permanent residents. Supporters of short-term rentals in New Buffalo say the influx of tourists who vacation at these properties helps support local businesses and restaurants. Owners of homes listed on Airbnb and Vrbo also make an income.

This story has been updated to reflect Laura Murray’s belief that she did not go over her allotted speaking time before she was escorted from the meeting.


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