County commissioners weigh vacation rental regulations

County commissioners may vote on new vacation rental regulations.

As vacation rental policies continue to shape much of the housing discussion on the North Coast, Clatsop County may set a precedent for unincorporated communities.

County commissioners will hold a second reading tonight of a proposed vacation rental ordinance.

All but one of the five commissioners — Scott Lee, the board’s chairman — have expressed concerns. The vote, the result of a 1 1/2-year effort by county staff, will take place a few months after Gearhart residents overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the city’s regulations.

The ordinance would impose a lodging tax on vacation rentals, set quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., establish rules for owners’ transparency with neighbors, require safety installations such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and adequate septic systems and limit occupancy to three people per sleeping area plus two more guests.

Vacation rental owners could lose their permit permanently if three violations are found or temporarily if a serious safety risk is discovered.

Unlike hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts, the state does not regulate vacation rentals to ensure health and safety.

“This is a growing industry and it needs to be kind of reined in,” Lee said. “I’m satisfied with the way the ordinance stands right now.”

Others are not as convinced.

The ordinance would require yearly permit renewals and inspections every five years. But Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan, with support from Commissioner Lianne Thompson, has proposed cutting the time frame down for inspections to three years. Sullivan ideally would like to have inspections by a building official once a year, but factors such as staff time and cost — more than $600 to $900 per inspection — would make that unfeasible, she said.

“I think a lot can happen in five years,” Sullivan said. “I’ve had constituents reach out to me about their concerns and I think we need to get a handle on it.”

Commissioner Sarah Nebeker, with support from Commissioner Lisa Clement, has opposed a portion of the ordinance that requires one off-street parking space per sleeping area plus one more at each residence.

“I’m just so confused about this,” Nebeker said at a meeting earlier this month. “Why is it a safety issue if someone is renting short term but it’s not a safety issue if you have five cars and live there full time?”

Deliberations about the county ordinance come against the backdrop of a larger divide about how to handle a growing vacation rental industry. The county estimates that the number of vacation rentals in unincorporated areas has nearly doubled since 2010.

Gearhart residents engaged in an intense debate in the weeks before the November election. Supporters of the repeal, such as Nebeker, hoped to loosen regulations she described as “draconian.” Others, like Gearhart Mayor Matt Brown, argued that the regulations are necessary to protect residential neighborhoods.

Lee said before the election that he would monitor the results, though it did not shape his thinking on the county ordinance.

“I didn’t want to go as extreme as the rules are in Gearhart,” Lee said. “I wanted to build a foundation that we could build on in the future.”

Stephen Malkowski, owner of Arch Cape Inn and Retreat in Cannon Beach and a former county planning commissioner, recently called for more stringent regulations in the county in a column for The Daily Astorian.

“Vacation rentals are disrupting neighborhoods, making it harder for individuals and working families to find affordable housing and forcing an increase in our homeless population,” he wrote.

If it passes, the ordinance would go into effect in July. Vacation rental owners would need to apply for a permit within 90 days after the ordinance takes effect.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners will decide tonight whether to approve a vacation rental ordinance. Here is what the ordinance would include:

• Safety requirements: fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, electric wiring protections, secured garbage containers, off-street parking, maximum occupancy, adequate septic systems, properly installed heat sources, railings on stairways, covered hot tubs and emergency escape exits

• Annual permit renewals and safety inspections every five years

• Quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

• Lodging taxes


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