County commissioners seek more information ahead of vacation rental vote

April 14 – Clatsop County commissioners say they want more information before voting on where vacation rentals should be allowed in unincorporated areas, raising the possibility that a moratorium could be extended.

On Wednesday, the County Board of Commissioners held the first readings of two ordinances that would deal with vacation rentals. One deals with where development code should explicitly allow rentals, the other with county code standards for operating them.

Towns on the north coast have adopted rules limiting short-term rentals. But the county has yet to designate them as permitted use in areas other than Arch Cape.

Rentals of 30 days or less can help boost tourism and earn lodging taxes. They have also led to disputes in residential areas due to the behavior of some holidaymakers. Coastal communities must weigh the economic benefits of attracting visitors against the damages incurred when uninteresting people in communities show up, make noise, leave trash, park without thinking, act rude and leave.

A 2018 county ordinance addressed safety and livability issues related to short-term rentals. The extra step of mentioning rentals in areas where many already operate, but where development code has so far elided their use, has not been taken.

Before the county commissioners on Wednesday were two zoning recommendations.

County staff recommended making short-term rentals a permitted use in 16 areas: four commercial, 12 residential.

Last month, the Planning Commission – split 4-3 – narrowed the staff’s vision, recommending short-term rentals only in the four commercial areas and two multi-family residential areas. The move would ban vacation rentals in other residential areas and lead to the phasing out of dozens of vacation rentals as owners cannot renew their permits. Of more than 180 vacation rentals operating in unincorporated areas, all but 77 would be phased out, staff said.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation would also result in a loss of nearly $500,000 in lodging taxes, county staff estimated.

Additionally, the Planning Commission has recommended that all vacation rentals operate on a condition of use basis. This would involve public notice, a public hearing and other actions that would cost the county thousands more. Staff recommended that these costs be passed on to rental applicants.

“A Common Event”

At Wednesday’s hearing, county commissioners heard views that have been expressed in various forms at numerous town halls and meetings since late 2019.

Reba Owen of Cove Beach held up photos of recently occupied short-term rental sites.

“The tenants are gone, but the trash isn’t,” Owen said. “It’s a common occurrence that locals have to put up with.”

In its neighborhood, zoned residential coastal, vacation rentals make up about a third of housing. Cove Beach residents have lobbied to remove short-term rentals — which Owen and his neighbors have called “mini-hotels” — from residential areas.

“The full-time residents are so tired that the county doesn’t want to support the Cove Beach residential area…” Owen said.

Monica Wellington, a Banks resident who, with her husband, owns a vacation rental in the Sunset Beach area, said the Planning Commission based its recommendations too much on the concerns of the Cove Beach contingent.

“We don’t believe this is a fair representation of the entire short-term rental landlord community,” Wellington said.

She agreed that a neighborhood where a third of homes are vacation rentals is too high a proportion and said she would support a cap on the number of rentals in a given area. “But what we don’t want to do is come up with a solution that doesn’t consider all stakeholders and without research,” she said. “It has to be an objective decision.”

Wellington and other rental property owners believe that complaints from neighbors should be dealt with through operating standards. The county is seeking to revise standards to address common complaints — such as fires, litter, speed limits and quiet hours — as well as license transfers and occupancy limits. (Arch Cape has its own operating standards, which the county can change from development code to county code.)

A 2019 countywide housing study found that the county has adequate housing stock, but much of the supply is used for second homes and short-term rentals.

Commissioner Lianne Thompson and Commissioner John Toyooka say they want more data on the impact of vacation rentals on area housing — its prices and availability — before voting.

Toyooka said vacation rentals may play a role in house prices and housing scarcity, but he suspects the impact is less than has been alleged. House prices have also soared due to rising material and labor costs, he said. And many homes that operate as short-term rentals, he said, are high-value homes — like those with ocean views — not homes considered affordable.

“It’s a difficult decision”

Commissioner Pamela Wev said she was more concerned about the impact of rentals on the quality of life in neighborhoods. “I think that’s what’s really important here,” she said. She worries about a “one size fits all” order that treats Clatsop Plains the same as, say, Brownsmead.

She said two weeks — when a moratorium on new vacation rental licenses is set to expire — might not be enough time for her to decide how to vote on the issue.

“It’s an order that has too many questions, too many details, for me to ever consider passing it,” she said, “and I think we have a responsibility, as a commission to county, to do a lot more learning and strategizing about what we do with this ordinance in the future.”

Thompson and Wev also said they support extending the moratorium while county staff work to gather more information.

Commissioner Courtney Bangs took a different view. She argued that by adding references to short-term rentals in development code areas where rentals are already operating, the county is correcting an oversight — reconciling the code with county practices.

“I don’t think we can continue to extend a moratorium indefinitely… It’s a tough call, but I feel like we’re at a point where it needs to be done,” Bangs said.

Commissioners will meet again to discuss the issue on April 27, the day before the moratorium expires.

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