WINONA LAKE — Winona Lake’s plan commission tackled several issues Thursday afternoon, Oct. 11, including preliminary approval of a plat for the town’s latest subdivision, as well as early conversations regarding the regulation of rental properties. The rental issue had at least one board member taking issue.
Building Commissioner Gene Seiman presented the panel with a proposed amendment to the town’s ordinance governing rentals. In that amendment, a registration fee of $40 per unit would be charged with a $10 late fee applicable for any payment made after the yearly deadline of Feb. 15. The ordinance amendment referred to the Rental Registration Application as a “practical guide for tenants and landlords.”
“I think the citizens of Winona Lake ought to thank all the renters,” said Plan Commission Member Jerry Nelson. Nelson said that renters are charged a higher tax rate, but don’t receive the benefit of a homestead exemption. “They’re the ones paying higher taxes,’ he said. “As a landlord, I’d like to make a comment about the residents of Winona Lake and I think the majority of them, with a few exceptions, think of renters as trailer trash. I would say that all of us have rented at some time in our life. When we look back as renters, we would want to be treated equitably.”
Nelson went on to call out members of the commission, saying “I feel there’s an existing conflict on this committee.”
Nelson referred to supposed conflicts as being related to two board members owning rental properties but denied he had any conflict when asked by board member Bill Zimmer.
“So, you have two members who are biased. Is one of them you?” asked Zimmer. “No, I’m not biased,” said Nelson. “I don’t control anybody’s salary.” Zimmer reminded Nelson that he reported conflicts. “So, you don’t have one?” Zimmer asked. “No, I don’t feel I have one,” answered Nelson.
Plan Commission President Dave Turner said he was trying to process Nelson’s assertions. “My head is rolling just a little bit trying to understand what you’re saying,” said Turner.
According to Seiman, the town has approximately 250 properties designated as rental properties, totaling 1,450 individual rental units. The ordinance states its goal as “a compelling interest in establishing standards for the maintenance of sanitary and safe residential rental structures…”
The commission discussed rental-related issues such as parking problems and code enforcement.
Turner advised the commission members to study Seiman’s document in order to make final changes at a future meeting.
“Let’s take what Gene has proposed here and mull it over and then come back to the next meeting and decide what we want to modify, what we want to delete and what we want to add,” said Turner. “But, I think it’s a step forward.”
In other business, the commission tentatively approved the plat of Tuscany Subdivision, but asked developer Jeff Thomas to include the entrance sign on the plat. The entrance sign is larger than the town ordinance stipulates.