County commissioners vote to recognize vacation rentals in more places

·4 min read

Jun. 23—The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance on Wednesday to recognize vacation rentals as an allowable use in 16 zones in unincorporated areas.

The decision adds vacation rentals to the county's development code, formally accepting a long-standing activity.

The board voted unanimously to hold the second reading of the ordinance, although Commissioner Pamela Wev had earlier voted against holding the first reading.

Recently, Wev had pushed for a tailored approach. Her view aligned with a Planning Commission recommendation to ban vacation rentals in residential zones and permit them in commercial and multifamily residential zones — a move that the county's Department of Assessment and Taxation said would make half a million dollars in lodging taxes disappear.

Wev changed her mind because of an amendment to the ordinance: Commissioners directed county staff to devise a plan to explore capping the number of short-term rentals in certain zones. That plan is expected to come before the commissioners in about five weeks.

"I think we owe all of the people who have spent so many hours on this issue — I think we owe them a firm commitment to doing that cap," she said.

Opponents of the ordinance worry that rentals of 30 or fewer days will continue to multiply, displacing long-term residents and eroding neighborhood livability. Limiting the number of vacation rentals in an area could help preserve residential character. In Cove Beach, the community that kicked off the discussion about vacation rentals in 2019, rentals compose about a third of homes.

More than 170 vacation rentals operate in the county's unincorporated areas. Until Wednesday's vote, their use went unmentioned in the development code except in Arch Cape, where vacation rentals have been allowed since the early 2000s.

"What we are doing is addressing in law what has been a matter of fact since long before any of us were here," Commissioner Lianne Thompson, who lives in Cove Beach, said on Wednesday.

The vote makes vacation rentals an outright use — no public hearing or public notice required before the county issues a permit.

The ordinance also applies to Gearhart's unincorporated urban growth boundary, an area not covered by that city's vacation rental rules.

The vote to make vacation rentals an explicit use is the latest in a recent series of commission decisions regarding the enterprises, which have become a sore spot in many Oregon Coast communities. Advertised on online platforms, rentals offer scenic getaways and bring in money for owners and local economies. But neighborhoods suffer them differently depending on density, the ability to enforce rules and other factors.

Since last summer, while county staff and commissioners worked to address the issue, the county has been under a twice-extended moratorium on vacation rental licenses. The freeze is set to expire in late August.

Clatsop County views vacation rentals as business activities alongside others — such as bed-and-breakfasts, RV parks, primitive campgrounds, dog kennels and golf courses — permitted in residential zones.

The most vocal opponents live in the Cove Beach neighborhood, where several residents had hoped the county would prohibit vacation rentals in residential zones and phase out existing ones as permits expire.

Some commissioners have warned that lawsuits could be filed against the county if the board voted to eliminate existing vacation rentals.

The idea of limiting the ventures came up repeatedly on Wednesday, as opponents of the ordinance sought a compromise with a board whose majority had already decided to vote "yes."

Thompson said she sees the wisdom in placing a cap on the number allowed in certain areas. Doing so would require amending the operating standards for vacation rentals.

In April, commissioners updated the operating standards for zones outside of Arch Cape to address renter behavior and other pressure points. Owners must post a good-neighbor flyer listing rules around things like quiet hours, littering, pets, fires, fireworks, parking, speed limits and trespassing.

Commissioner John Toyooka said enforcement of these rules is the major concern that comes up in his exchanges with residents.

Other, more existential concerns have been aired over about two dozen public meetings. Karynn Fish, of Cove Beach, said on Wednesday that she fears her family will one day be evicted so the property can be converted into a vacation rental.

"Your actions today will likely determine whether my family or any other family in the future is able to lease our home in the years to come," Fish told the commissioners.

Commissioner Courtney Bangs, who represents the county's eastern portion, said she is not a fan of the negative impacts of tourism. She views the issue through the lens of property rights.

"Property rights mean a lot to me and to my constituents," she said. "I can't cherry pick when property rights are important and when they're not."