BERRIEN SPRINGS — Over 800 rental units were registered under Oronoko Township’s new rental housing ordinance by the late August deadline. Township Supervisor Mike Hildebrand said this week that the township has received 331 applications registering 842 units.

The township board approved the new rental ordinance in June and set a deadline of Aug. 30 for people to register their properties. Those who did not meet that deadline will now have to pay late fees.

The new rental inspection program is called the Rental Safety Verification Program, with the goals of renter and firefighter safety, cosmetic and curb appeal and maintaining property values. Township officials estimate there are 1,000 or more short- and long-term rentals in the township.

Hildebrand noted that a couple of questions have been raised with the start of the ordinance’s implementation. They include discovery of zoning issues with nonconforming uses, such as buildings having three or four rental units when the zoning only allows for two units, and what’s the next step for those who haven’t registered.

“We’re going to find people eventually and they will pay the late fee,” Hildebrand said.

Those operating unregistered Air BNB-type short-term rentals will not only have to pay late fees, they may also find themselves shut down by the township. Fire Chief Bruce Stover said his firefighter inspectors will be enforcing the ordinance on the short-term rentals first.

Stover said that nine of the 12 properties listed by Air BNB for Oronoko Township have registered, and he expects there are more short-term rentals than that. Hildebrand told him to send out one more notice to the property owners before the township sends out tickets.

Marijuana discussion

The township board also held a first reading of an ordinance amendment to allow the township to opt out of more recreational marijuana activities. The board first voted to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana establishments last November, shortly after voters in Michigan voted to allow the use and sale of recreational marijuana.

Township Attorney Robert Landgraf said the township needs to take new action before a Nov. 1 deadline imposed by the state due to new allowable activities not covered in the original opt-out action. Municipalities not taking action by Nov. 1 to prohibit these new activities will not be able to prohibit them from coming in.

Landgraf said the state recreational marijuana rules and policies change almost weekly. “You opted out of allowing recreational marijuana facilities to grow or sell late last year,” he reminded board members. “Since then there have been a significant amount of regulations not originally referenced.”

He said the state is now allowing the issuance of “social licenses” for consumption centers where people can smoke marijuana on the premises, as well as one-time event licenses allowing for consumption of marijuana at specific events.

“The concern is that the original opt out doesn’t pertain to these new activities,” Landgraf said. “I’m recommending you amend your opt-out ordinance to cover the new licenses. I propose we introduce it now and vote in October.”

Trustee Rich Albers noted that a majority of Oronoko Township residents voted against legalizing marijuana. “We did what the people here wanted,” he said in reference to the original opt-out ordinance.

Drain issue

Also Tuesday, board members heard from Berrien County Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin about a proposal to fix the Lemon Creek Drain over Garr Road in the township.

Quattrin told board members that the culvert under Garr Road north of Shawnee has failed and needs to be replaced. He said the county has received a bid of $258,500 for the project and is proposing that the road department pay one third of the costs, the township another one third and affected property owners another one third.

Hildebrand suggested the township roll discussion of the drain project into next year’s budget talks. He said if the township accepts paying a third of the costs, it would give some relief to property owners and mean an expenditure of $9,000 or so annually for 10 years. Quattrin urged action on the proposal soon, saying the price could go up if it has to be rebid.

Hildebrand questioned why the drain commission and the road department are putting it as a priority now when they denied it was a problem over the last few years, and even sealcoated Garr Road last year. He did note the importance of the drain, as it drains 3,500 acres of land in the township.