County commissioners extend holiday rental moratorium

April 28—The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners extended a moratorium on new vacation rental permits Wednesday evening for the second time.

Last August, the council approved a moratorium to give the county time to determine where and how to regulate short-term rentals, which have proliferated in recent years in unincorporated areas from Clatsop Plains to Cove Beach, Knappa at Jewell. An extension was approved in December.

The council’s decision to extend the freeze for a further 120 days – ending on August 26 – came as the last extension was due to end.

The council can lift the moratorium sooner if it resolves the most contentious issue: in which areas should vacation rentals be recognised?

At Wednesday’s meeting, county commissioners addressed two elements of the vacation rental problem.

They approved revisions to operating standards for short-term rentals in the county code.

The standards deal with nuisances such as noise, waste and parking. Homeowners must post a good neighbor flyer that outlines rules regarding campfires, speed limits, quiet hours, trespassing, and other items. They should also display information about power outages and the possibility of disasters such as forest fires, tsunamis and landslides. The standards prohibit permit transfers; new owners must apply for new permits and have the unit re-inspected.

In the event of a complaint, real estate agents or representatives must contact tenants within 20 minutes. They must respond in person within an hour for serious complaints — like a failing septic tank or too many occupants on the lot — and within 24 hours for more benign ones, according to the county staff report.

People who knowingly make false or unsubstantiated complaints will be subject to a fine, the staff report said.

From an administrative standpoint, commissioners also voted to move operating standards for Arch Cape – the only area where vacation rentals are an explicitly recognized use – from the Land and Water Development and Use Code to the county code. , where the other operating standards live.

“It looks like we’re eating this elephant one bite at a time,” Commissioner Lianne Thompson said.

She noted on Wednesday that she heard more agreement on the issue among members of the public who spoke than in previous meetings. “I think our approach, while time-consuming, is the most effective in maintaining good neighbors and good neighborly relations,” Thompson said.

Landlords have long rented out their homes in unincorporated areas of the county, but the advent of online platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo has streamlined the business.

In Clatsop County, as elsewhere on the Oregon Coast, rentals of 30 days or less have proven to be lucrative ventures, drawing tourists and their money to the area. But locals have alleged that some visitors don’t respect the neighborhoods or the environment around them.

A 2018 ordinance addressed health and safety concerns and marked the first time the county sought to regulate rentals. Although rental permits were issued, development code still omitted rentals as an explicitly permitted use, except at Arch Cape.

County staff recommended that the council make short-term rentals a recognized use in 16 additional areas: four commercial and 12 residential.

In March, the Planning Commission, in a split vote, offered a different recommendation: to allow vacation rentals only in the four commercial areas and two multi-family residential areas, plus Arch Cape – a decision that would prohibit actually rentals in the other 10 residential areas.

The planning commissioners who voted in favor argued that most residential areas are unsuitable settings for commercial ventures.

Additionally, the Planning Commission has recommended that vacation rentals be permitted only as a conditional use, which requires public notice and a public hearing.

The Planning Commission’s approach would eliminate more than half of short-term rentals operating in unincorporated areas because existing permits cannot be renewed. County staff estimate the loss would cost the county about half a million dollars in lodging taxes.

The board originally planned to decide the matter this month. At the April 13 meeting, Thompson and Commissioner Pamela Wev said they would support an extension of the moratorium while the county gathers data on a key question: how does the vacation rental industry affect the local housing market in terms of housing prices and availability?

That data will be presented at a work session on May 18, said Gail Henrikson, the county’s director of community development.

Commissioner Courtney Bangs voted to extend the moratorium but did so, she said, to honor her colleagues’ request for additional information. She wants to wrap up the vacation rental conversation — which has gone on in more than 20 town hall meetings since late 2019 — by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Chris Delong, who lives in the Astoria area, said Wednesday he started paying his mortgage on a vacation rental in July. He applied for a permit in October, not realizing a moratorium was in effect.

“I’ve been paying that mortgage ever since, with all my investment sitting there, and I think it’s really up to you to put that to bed…” he told the board. “It’s real money to me. It’s not disposable money. It’s not disposable income. It’s not me who owns a big yacht or anything. C is real money that affects my life.”

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