Clatsop County Commissioners are voting on tough restrictions on vacation rentals in beach communities

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The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners will this week consider two competing proposals, one of which would impose severe restrictions on where vacation homes can be allowed in unincorporated areas.

The commissioners will decide whether to limit short-term residential rental licenses to the unincorporated community of Arch Cape at the southern end of the county and ban them in the other unincorporated neighborhoods of the county.

The board will also consider a separate proposal that would revise short-term rental regulations in all neighborhoods, a move to formally recognize rentals not specifically permitted under the existing zoning code.

The problem of short-term rentals has become a lightning rod in coastal communities. Some year-round residents in the county have complained that vacationers are a nuisance and that the proliferation of vacation homes is driving up house prices. The ability to restrict vacation rentals, meanwhile, has raised concerns from landlords and some business owners who fear the proposed regulation would deter visitors and dampen the county’s tax revenues.

Incorporated cities have their own vacation rental rules, so places like Astoria and Seaside would not be affected. But landlords in other unincorporated parts of the county would lose their short-term rental licenses when they are up for renewal.

It is not clear how the Commission is inclined to vote on the proposals.

The seemingly conflicting proposals deal with slightly different rules, said county spokesman Tom Bennett. He said one relates to the county’s zoning code, which dictates what types of buildings are allowed in different areas. The other establishes operating standards for rental housing throughout the county, with the exception of Arch Cape, for which the county has separate rules.

Residents opposed to the spread of holiday rentals have argued that short-term rentals should not be allowed in rural areas where the zoning code says nothing on the issue. However, the county has issued short-term rental licenses in those areas, said Dan Kearns, an attorney hired to advise some Clatsop County residents on land-use issues.

If the zoning ordinance restricting short-term rentals is passed, it would be the latest example of a coastal community restricting vacation rentals due to concerns about habitability and rising property prices. In Lincoln County, voters last November passed a measure to phase out short-term rentals in unincorporated parts of the county over the next five years.

Late last year, the district commission imposed a temporary moratorium on new short-term rental permits. The moratorium, which was originally due to expire in December, is now being extended until April 28th.

In February, Bennett said, district commissioners directed employees to draft stricter rules but still allow short-term rentals in all neighborhoods.

However, after reviewing the proposal, the county planning commission recommended that the board only allow short-term rentals at Arch Cape.

Bennett declined to say where the county’s vacation rentals are located, citing a county ordinance that prohibits the disclosure of information about individuals’ tax income for temporary accommodation.

But county documents to be presented at next week’s meeting show there are 186 licensed short-term rentals in unincorporated Clatsop County. If the county commission approves the new ordinance, only 77 of those permits could be renewed.

District officials estimated that this would result in an annual loss of nearly $500,000 in tax revenue.

Written public comments to the board in recent years indicated broad dissatisfaction with the way the county had dealt with short-term rentals and concerns about their prevalence.

Some have complained of short-term renters driving through their property to get to the beach, littering the area, and making loud noise late into the night.

“The renters/vacationers are ignorant of community or county rules and it shouldn’t be my job to police them by calling the hotline,” wrote the county’s Terry Andrews, referring to a lead local residents said can call to report violations. Andrews said that even when such a line is in place, the county often does not enforce the rules.

However, several homeowners, real estate agents and coastal visitors wrote to the commission raising concerns about the financial losses that could result from capping holiday rentals.

Linda Needham wrote that she and her husband clean homes in Clatsop County and that the impact of the short-term rental ban would weigh even more heavily on their finances as they try to recover from lost businesses during the pandemic.

Bobak Baradar, who owns a rental property in Clatsop County, said the proposal will effectively end his ability to rent his home.

“In our view, business owners and vacation rental owners don’t get representation — they ignore us all,” said Baradar, a Beaverton resident.

Some permanent coastal residents have also raised concerns that short-term rentals are driving up housing costs and cutting into the already limited supply of affordable housing for people who live there full-time.

“We hear weekly if not daily from valuable and talented and skilled local people and their families who are unable to find housing and it breaks our heart to convert every home that is sold into a (short term rental). except- businesses and businesses in the area are outselling locals who just need a place to live,” Beth Radich, an unincorporated Clatsop County resident, wrote to the planning commission in March.

Baradar said he does not accept the complaint that rental housing is eating up the housing supply for year-round residents.

“For the housing market across the US, prices are going through the roof and houses are being sold above asking price,” he said. “They try to use vacation rentals as an excuse, but housing prices in the US don’t make sense.”

The commission will discuss the regulations on Wednesday and is expected to vote on both on April 27, according to a staff report.

– Jayati Ramakrishnan

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