Lincoln City Council looks set to embark on a “complete review” of its vacation rental dwelling (VRD) rules, with Mayor Dick Anderson saying he wants to tackle the “elephant in the room.”
Anderson called for the move at Council’s Monday, April 11, meeting after he and his fellow council members were asked to decide whether they would like to see staff tweak the existing rules in three specific areas (see panel on page A10).
“I wonder if we are just skirting the issue and avoiding the elephant in the room,” he said, “and why we would not put this on for a complete review?”
During his time as a city councilor, Anderson repeatedly expressed concerns about the impact of VRDs on residential neighborhoods.
During his 2010 campaign for mayor, he indicated he would want Council to take a fundamental look at its VRD policies within his first year in office.
The number of vacation rentals in Lincoln City has grown more than tenfold since 1989, with the community home to 340 VRDs in 2010.
Previous attempts in recent years to strike a balance between the desires of VRD operators and neighboring residents have led to lengthy Council meetings and passionate arguments on both sides.
Anderson proposed Council should get some “new blood” into the mix by setting up a committee to spend five months hashing out the issues before coming back with recommendations.
In what he described as an “editorial,” City Manager David Hawker said he feels Council’s most recent attempt to strike a balance was scuppered by a community that was unwilling to compromise.
“At that time there were two distinctive groups,” he said. “Those who favored lack of regulations of VRDs and those who opposed all VRDs. And there was no compromise to be seen.”
“I think Council could have compromised, “ he added. “I just don’t think the community would have allowed the Council to compromise.”
Both Anderson and Councilor Henry Quandt agreed there had been no sign of compromise during previous VRD debates.
“I think it keeps the whole community on edge,” Quandt said.
Nevertheless, Anderson said he would like “the elephant to be visible and dealt with.”
“I personally would be happiest if everyone in the room is angry at me for what I decide,” he said. “Because then I know I’ve touched everybody.”
Hawker advised that before committing staff, planning commissioners and Council to a time-intensive process, councilors ask whether the community still has a problem with VRDs.
“I think we do,” Anderson said, adding that he still receives a great deal of feedback on the issue.
Anderson said some VRD operators are now open to the idea of limiting VRD numbers because the volume of rentals has driven down the amount they can charge in rent.
Hawker said he will bring back some options for how Council could tackle a full review of VRD rules.
City staff requests guidance on issues
The call for a complete review of VRD rules stemmed from a staff request for guidance on three specific rental issues.
Staff asked Council to eliminate a requirement that any VRD in the City must make at least $500 in rental income each year in order for the owners to retain their license.
The rule originally accompanied a proposed ordinance that would have capped the number of VRDs in particular neighborhoods and was designed to prevent anti-VRD residents buying up rental licenses and sitting on them.
However, the caps were never adopted, leaving the minimum rental requirement useless.
Planning Director Richard Townsend said seven VRDs now face losing their license for failing to reach the minimum.
By consensus, Council directed staff to draft an ordinance amendment eliminating the requirement.
Staff asked whether Council would consider amending the VRD rules to exempt owners of rentals in areas that are annexed by the City from several of the standards imposed in the 2009 re-write of the VRD rules.
An exemption would allow owners of VRDs in Roads End to operate their rentals without interruption in the event that the area is brought within the city limits.
Hawker said grandfathering annexed VRDs is a “big money issue,” adding that concerns about rental restrictions might be contributing toward “legislative efforts” in Salem.
Those “efforts” include three bills that, if passed into law, would directly affect the City’s ability to annex Roads End.
Council directed Hawker to bring back a proposal on grandfathering as a priority.
Cap on guests
Staff sought guidance on whether the City should either restrict the size of VRDs or cap the number of guests allowed to stay in them.
In both cases, staff recommended limiting the measure to new VRDs only.
Townsend said that while most VRDs sleep four to eight people, some sleep 20 while one advertises that it can sleep more than 40 guests.
Council did not discuss the proposal.