SOUTH BEND — More than 60 residents and business owners packed the Pacific County commissioners’ South Bend meeting room Dec. 16 to discuss implementing a six-month moratorium on new nightly rental applications.
Commissioners voted 2-0 with one absent to implement an interim stop on applications, with the possibility it will be extended at a meeting in February.
Chairman Frank Wolfe started the meeting by emphasizing the moratorium will not affect vacation rentals already authorized in the county.
“The moratorium will allow time to review the existing regulations for short-term vacation rentals,” Wolfe said. “This will not affect currently permitted short-term vacation rentals or all complete pending applications.”
Wolfe limited public comments to three minutes per person. A recording of the meeting will be posted online on the Pacific County website within the next week.
Pacific County Planning Director/Fire Marshall Tim Crose recommended the moratorium and explained his reasoning.
“Around 2010, we did our comprehensive plan update and development regulations to update vacation rental rules,” Crose said. “Initially, the vacation rental rules were put into place for more of a passive activity in someone’s existing residence and were only there half the time of year or something like that who wanted a way to generate income. So they went through the vacation rental process.”
He continued, “Now it has morphed into these individual businesses and houses that are being developed for the sole purpose of vacation rentals. It’s not really a passive activity anymore — so that’s one aspect of how things have changed.”
Crose went on to explain that several years ago there were about 50 licensed vacation rentals. Now there are approximately 95. The county suspects there are up to 200 unlicensed nightly rental operations.
Due to the large number, the county is now worried about fire safety and public health due to a lack of monitored and sanctioned compliance. Therefore, Crose is asking the county to pass the moratorium so officials can look at the regulations and find a logical solution for monitoring vacation rentals.
Once Crose finished his explanation, Wolfe opened the meeting up for public comment. He asked everyone in the room who wished to speak to stand and be sworn in. Roughly 25 residents and business owners stood up.
“I am opposed to a moratorium,” Susan Jones said. “I own two homes in Ocean Park. I love the area and love that it’s finally getting some recognition for getting more tourism into the area. My concern is if you’re going to limit our growth potential, it’s really going to affect the economy.”
Many of the objections to a moratorium came from the real estate industry.
“I am in total opposition of the moratorium,” Leslie Brophy of Pacific Realty said. “Vacation rentals are the lifeblood of Pacific County, and tourism is our number one source for the economy. The thought of handicapping it at all is not acceptable.”
“Just the mere mention of a moratorium sends panic amongst us real estate agents,” Char Walters of Lighthouse Reality said. “Terror the night before, and the last couple of nights have been terrible. Personally, one in five of my clients that come in wants to invest in the community as a vacation rental.”
She continued, “Many of them are young people coming from Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, or wherever who want to a retirement home in the future. In the meantime they can come to bring their kids, they can enjoy the privacy of and the wonderful things we have to offer. While making some money to support that decision of being able to contribute to their retirement.”
“I have a vacation rental in Ocean Park,” John Robertson said. “I am opposed to the moratorium. I guess my rationale is that I am not sure a moratorium actually helps solve the problem that has been identified in terms of the inspection process.”
Not everyone in attendance was against the moratorium.
“I live in Ocean Park, and we are long-time owners,” Sturges Dorrance said. “We built our house 20-some years ago in the relative security — it was zoned residential, and it would remain residential. When businesses are injected into our community and other communities, it has an effect.”
Dorrance continued, “there is a reason that Cannon Beach and Seaview have limited vacation rentals. We are not opposed to businesses. Obviously, there are plenty of businesses here, but there are a great number of homeowners on the peninsula who have had bad experiences with rentals next to them. We believe that a moratorium to consider where this is going is very important.”
Seaview resident Darrell Lashley said, “I don’t care much to live next to commercial enterprises. In Seaview, we don’t have a problem, but we have a few that are grandfathered in.”
He continued, “there has to be some sort of an overall plan somewhere for the county of how many of these you are going to permit. I understand the business concerns here, but when you get right down to it, these are R1 areas restricted to residential, and a lot of us don’t really want to live next to hotels.”
Residents on J Lane in Ocean Park came to the meeting to express their frustration with a proposed vacation nightly rental on their road. Some only recently found out by a flyer hung on the road that informed them they had 15 days to oppose.
Two residents, Don and Beth Lalley, said they moved to the area to get away from the city life of Seattle to aid Don’s severe PTSD.
“We bought our home, an R1 zoned road,” he said. “We have only had it two years and thought we had a nice private off the beaten path very private road. Only people who own houses on that road use that road. Now all of a sudden, I got a business next door to me that is going to destroy the whole reason I came out here.”
Public comment continued for just over an hour and was split about two-thirds business interests to one-third homeowners.
Many of the homeowners present who supported the moratorium voiced evident displeasure with a lack of representation for the “poor people.”
Wolfe and Commissioner Lisa Olsen then closed public comment, but several in attendance wanted to continue the debate. To interrupt the tension, Wolfe had to slam down his gravel numerous times, with some attendees then abruptly leaving.
Wolfe then addressed Crose directly to specify what the moratorium meant and how the process would unfold. He reiterated that the moratorium is a temporary halt on new licenses for the next six months and will not affect currently licensed vacation rentals.
It was also clarified that the current moratorium will only be temporary until a Feb. 11 public hearing. The moratorium will also give the planning commission and Crose’s office a chance to look over the regulations to see if any changes should be made.
Wolfe and Olsen then motioned and seconded the moratorium. Both voted it into effect for the current time. The decision resulted in boos and chants of “it’s obvious the commissioners don’t care about the public’s opinion.”
The moratorium will be discussed again during a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in the commissioners’ meeting room.