County tackles vacation rental rules

Nicole Bales, The Daily Astorian, Ore.
·4 min read

Mar. 3—Clatsop County is tackling rules around vacation rentals, considering some big-ticket policy items that could increase restrictions.

During a county Board of Commissioners work session in February, the county set the table for discussions, laying out ways to tighten short-term rental ordinances as well as potential policies to consider down the road.

Cities on the North Coast have struggled to balance the growth in vacation rentals as the region becomes a more popular tourist destination. Pockets of the county have also felt the same pressures.

Many of the questions and policy suggestions came out of quarterly community discussions the county started hosting last summer.

The virtual discussions began in Cove Beach in July to promote dialogue after strife over vacation rentals. The meetings were expanded to Arch Cape and Clatsop Plains.

Gail Henrikson, the county's community development director, said the meetings were an opportunity to explain how the code compliance process works and how they prioritize and address complaints.

"It was also a chance for us to hear all of the concerns that we were getting on a piecemeal basis, but just to (create) a communitywide dialogue so everybody was hearing the same thing at the same time," she said. "And then by hearing that, it also gave staff a chance to begin to identify areas in the ordinance where we needed to make revisions to help us better implement and enforce it."

During the community meetings, residents explained how short-term rentals have impacted their quality of life. Many of the complaints deal with noise, parking and overcrowding. Other complaints are out of the county's control.

Vacation rental owners have described their efforts to be good neighbors and encourage their guests to do the same.

"And they also have concerns about possible changes to the ordinance that may impact how they do business or even possibly eliminate the possibility of them doing business," Henrikson said.

There are two county ordinances that regulate vacation rentals. One is specific to Arch Cape, while the other covers the remaining unincorporated parts of the county.

Both are similar, but have a couple of key differences regarding parking and length-of-stay requirements.

The Arch Cape ordinance requires a minimum seven-night stay, and only one reservation is allowed during a seven-day period. Street parking is not allowed. There is no limit or minimum stay requirement for other unincorporated areas, and street parking is allowed.

Commissioners directed staff to set parameters and a scope of work for an ad hoc committee to help combine and reconcile the two ordinances.

"Those would be the two big areas where we would need to have a committee to look at it and determine how best to reconcile," Henrikson said. "Whether it's taking one of the ordinance provisions and recommending that to be adopted or just creating some sort of compromise between the two ordinances."

The board's guidance on other questions could be drafted as amendments. Some of those questions include whether there should be a "three-strikes rule" — requiring staff to revoke a vacation rental permit after three complaints — and penalties for people who knowingly submit false complaints.

Some policy items were provided as a starting point for future discussions, including questions about capping short-term rentals, prohibiting them in certain parts of the county and how the lodging tax is utilized.

Henrikson said those items will not be included in the revisions to the ordinances at this time.

"It was so clear to me how much everybody who wrote cared about this issue," said Commissioner Lianne Thompson, who represents South County. "Every single person has this passionate devotion to community well-being. There is not a consensus on what that community well-being looks like, how it's defined, none of it. There's no agreement.

"My concern about establishing a committee would be it would have to have a purview where it looked at what was state law, what were the sidebars. I've seen some things with citizen advisory committees that have caused me great concern.

"There have been a number of proposals that have been in clear violation of state law and have been termed 'aspirational.' Well, I don't have an aspiration to break the state law, and I think it doesn't help the situation when anybody thinks that their will or their whim or their idea or their passion, however we want to characterize it, can have the force of state law or county ordinance."