GEARHART — The city of Gearhart misrepresented a challenge to new short-term rental rules, a Clatsop County Circuit Court judge has ruled.
A summary of a ballot initiative to “repeal and replace” the legislation underwent significant changes as a result of the decision, issued by Judge Dawn McIntosh on May 4.
“This is a huge win,” Gearhart property owner David Townsend said Monday. “What we’ve said solidly from Day One is that the current regime at City Hall is very solidly against vacation rentals. The city was trying to completely manipulate the language. The judge agreed with us, that they were 99 percent wrong. I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s the first time I’ve seen a judge completely rewrite and take everything from one side. ”
According to the revised summary, the ballot measure would repeal special regulation on vacation rental dwellings related to off-street parking, residential appearance, garbage service, septic-sewer capacity inspections and cesspool requirements not required of other Gearhart residents.
Some elements of the original ballot initiative prepared by the city are retained in the rewritten summary, including a vote on future short-term rental zoning amendments, safety inspections and permit fees.
“Ultimately, my interest, and the interest of the city, is that city electors have a ballot title that allows them to make an informed decision on the potential initiative,” Gearhart City Attorney Peter Watts said Monday. “I think that the ballot title that Judge McIntosh wrote is clear and easy to understand. I also believe that it is substantially similar to the ballot title that I drafted.”
Ballot title challenge
The city’s rules, enacted last fall, regulate short-term rental occupancy limits, parking and property management contact information, among other measures. Permits are transferable only by inheritance, not by the sale of the property, according to the ordinance.
In March, property owners Joy Sigler, Brian Sigler and Sarah Nebeker filed a challenge to the city, seeking a ballot initiative to Gearhart voters that would repeal and replace the ordinance. Titled “Gearhart Vacation Rental Ordinance,” their proposed 15-point ordinance seeks to “assure that the interests of vacation homeowners and permanent residents remain in a sustainable balance that is good for the community, that every property owner’s rights are fairly protected and that no property owner is economically harmed by excessive rules and regulations.”
The ordinance offers rules for short-term vacation rentals, including owner contact details, transferability, occupancy and health and safety details, among others.
Property owners submitted that document to the city, which then summarized it by caption, question and summary, as specified by state election law. Upon its release on the city’s blog in early April, Gearhart homeowner Jim Whittemore said the city’s ballot title summary was prepared without input or review by those who wrote it and did not reflect the purpose and intent of the initiative petition.
The summary prepared by the city only specified what would be eliminated, not what the measure would actually provide, the Siglers and Nebeker wrote in their April petition to challenge the ballot title.
They requested new language to ensure that voters understood that their revised rules would require compliance with city ordinances that “apply generally to all residential dwelling units.”
“We’re willing to abide by the rules that everybody else does,” Townsend said this week. “They should be the same for everybody.”
Land use appeal
The ballot initiative is one of several challenges to Gearhart’s short-term rental rules, which have subsequently been merged to go before the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
Whittemore, among 14 Gearhart property owners, brought an appeal to the state in October. A second land use appeal was subsequently merged.
Coincidentally, the state appeals board listened to arguments on May 4, the same day as the Clatsop County Circuit Court hearing. A decision from the state has not yet been rendered.
A ballot measure could go before voters in November if supporters can gather 175 validated signatures necessary at least 90 days before Election Day.
If there is a ruling on the land use case at the state level, the initiative petition measure would nevertheless proceed, Townsend said.
“From my understanding of LUBA, (the state) will send it back to City Council to do all over again,” Townsend said. “The City Council has not expressed any interest in sitting down with us and arriving at a compromise measure.”