By Bob Uphues
Riverside trustees on June 21 signaled that they'll put a moratorium on issuing any new vacation rental licenses after neighbors of the village's lone licensed vacation rental staged a revolt in response to a request to double the number of days it can be rented.
In the face of such opposition, the owners of the vacation rental, Steve and Donna Baer, dropped the request seeking to rent their Michaux Road mansion for up to 180 days a year. Trustees were unlikely to approve the request in any event. The village's law allows vacation rentals to operate no more than 60 nights a year.
"I did not know my neighbors were upset with me," said Donna Baer, who along with her husband said they had not received any complaints from neighbors or the village since beginning to rent out their six-bedroom home in the fall of 2017.
"I want to apologize," she said. "This was never my intent."
The Baers told their neighbors and members of the village board that their intent in making their 5,000-square-foot home a vacation rental was to fulfill the wishes of local officials when they passed the licensing law in 2017 – to bring people and their money to town to help the village's economy.
"We were just hoping to share the village's vision of sharing Riverside with the rest of the world," Donna Baer said.
Neighbors were not convinced, pointing out that the Baers, whose home is listed on the website VRBO.com, were marketing the place not as a quiet retreat but as an event venue.
"[We] have a hotel there now, because that's the way it's being run – it's all weddings, it's all large parties," said A.J. Ruska, who has lived on the block for 48 years.
In their VRBO listing, the Baers describe their gracious home, built in 1894 and designed by Dwight Perkins, as "family reunion nirvana" that sleeps 21 and would be "great for reunions, retreats, wedding housing, getaways or as a safe, fun launchpad for vacationers exploring Chicago."
Depending on date, the house rents for between $1,000 and $1,200 per night. The Baers have rented the home in 2018 to its full 60-day limit.
The listing also touts the large backyard, fire pit, basketball court, rear deck and hot tub, and it includes photos of the backyard accommodating a large event with banquet tables and tents throughout.
Ruska and other neighbors said one of the worst aspects of the Baers' home being rented is the number of people and traffic brought into the strictly residential neighborhood.
Virginia Lattner, a next-door neighbor, said that in addition to the maximum rental capacity of 21 people the home can accommodate, their special events bring even more people to the neighborhood.
"I don't think it should be used as a venue site," Lattner said. "I would ask the board to revisit the rules and regulations as they stand now.
Ann Kmet, whose backyard abuts the Baers' home, complained of noise until 3 a.m. and said that there was at least one renter who brought dogs with them. The dogs have ended up running around in her yard.
"I think 60 days is more than enough time," Kmet said. "Maybe it should be lowered somewhat."
Jack Wiaduck, who lives on Bartram Road, about a half block away, chided the village board from removing a restriction that mandated vacation rentals get a special use permit, which would have triggered a public hearing process and let neighbors know what was coming.
He called on the village board to reconsider whether vacation rentals be allowed at all in residential districts.
"This is a single-family residential area, not a multi-family or hotel area," Wiaduck said. "I'm opposed to the fact that a business is being run on the street that's supposed to be a residential street."
Steve Baer acknowledged and apologized for the distress caused to his neighbors, but he also emphasized that he and his wife were following the rules set up by the village board when it passed its vacation rental ordinance last year. He also acknowledged that he could have done a better job enforcing rules regarding his renters disturbing neighbors.
"We don't want to upset our neighbors," he said.
Baer also hinted that in not being able to extend rentals to 180 days a year, it might change their attitude toward using their home as a rental in the future.
"It'll probably impact our decision making for 2019, because maybe this is a half-baked idea and maybe Riverside isn't a community that should have [vacation rentals]," he said.
Village President Ben Sells said the village board's intent in passing vacation rental rules that allowed the practice by right and fairly simple standards regarding occupancy was to encourage the creation of local retreats where couple and families could discover Riverside and patronize its businesses.
Trustees really hadn't contemplated what's happening over on Michaux Road. Sells, who said he also had not heard complaints about the Baers' rentals until last week, suggested vacation rentals would be more tightly controlled in the future.
"In retrospect I think that this should have been a special use and not a permitted use so that the neighbors would have been contacted directly and allowed to have a chance to speak up front," said Sells.
"This board will be interested in revisiting the bed-and-breakfast and the vacation rental ordinances, because obviously things that are taking place are not sufficient to protect the residents."