The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners suspended new short-term rental (STR) licenses in unincorporated county areas in March 2020. While the initial suspension was for 60 days, it was extended multiple times. It is set to expire on June 1.
The issue of where STRs should be allowed, how many should be permitted, the number of guests allowed, as well as enforcement of violations, have been discussed and hotly contested over the past year as the commissioners have grappled with how to manage the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals in residential zones in unincorporated areas of the county.
At the March 29th regular meeting of the board, which was held remotely and available to livestream on YouTube, County Counsel Wayne Belmont presented staff recommendations regarding STRs, a timeline for public input and plans for the STR program going forward.
Belmont told the commissioners "the extent of the use of a residence” was the most commented issue, referenced more than any other single item in the large volume of public input.
“Occupancy is a key factor, really, in the viability of the STR program and its impact on surrounding neighbors,” he said, noting current regulations allow “six, nine, or even 12 persons to occupy a residence.”
Census data, Belmont related, says the current average household size is 2.25 persons per household. “[Current regulations] provide for an intensity of use that really is beyond the current intensity,” he said.
Recommendations include reducing the 3 persons per sleeping area to two persons per sleeping area and adding a maximum occupancy during the day. Events, such as weddings and graduations, will be prohibited.
Limiting the number of guests in STRs, Belmont projected, would have “as much impact as any other change you could make in the code, short of actually disallowing STRs,” he said. “These are residential areas and should be used for residential purposes.” Belmont pointed out that there are other places available in the county to host events.
With approximately 75 percent of unincorporated Lincoln County STRs on septic systems, staff recommendations include inspection requirements. Additional code enforcement and a cap on the number of licenses issued are also recommended.
Belmont advised the commissioners that the current recommendations do not include recommendations regarding fees, but those will be coming. There will be further recommendations around a cap, as well as amendments to Lincoln County Code Chapter 5, the transit room tax. There will also be recommendations that address different management models and practices.
Monica Kirk of 15Neighborhoods, a group circulating a ballot measure that seeks to limit and eventually phase out STRs in low-density, single-family zones in unincorporated Lincoln County, expressed disappointment in the recommendations presented to the board.
“The recommendations don’t provide the data that the board has insisted upon for the last fourteen months. They do not reflect the written public comments that have been submitted during the workshops during 2019, 2020 and 2021. There is no cost-benefit analysis of local tourism that takes into account impacts on infrastructure,” Kirk said.
“We would encourage the board to cancel the April 7 public meeting, because there is nothing new to be considered,” Kirk added.
Jamie Michel, vice president and public policy officer of Sweet Homes Vacation Getaways and co-founder of VIA Oregon, responded to the proposed measures by email. “These proposals are brand new, and it will take time to fully understand to what degree they might negatively impact local taxpayers,” she wrote.
VIA Oregon identifies on its website as a “coalition to meet the growing collective needs of vacation homeowners, hosts and supporting industries to realize the full benefits that come with a consolidated voice … advocating ... on regulatory and other issues vital to survival in the vacation rental industry.”
Michel added, “We want to work with the county and create good rules that make sense. The proposals are brand new and haven't been shared until now, a week before the public hearing. We want fair regulations that work, but some of these proposals would only hurt local taxpayers and won't achieve compliance, which will result in driving the activity underground."
The public is invited to comment in a virtual workshop to be held Wednesday, April 7th at 6 p.m., with additional workshops to be scheduled if needed. After public comment, the board will again discuss proposed changes to the STR program at their April 12th meeting.
Information regarding the STR workshop, including a form to submit comments, can be found at https://www.co.lincoln.or.us/boc/page/short-term-rental-str-licensing-2021-workshops.