Measure would redo short-term rental rules
By R.J. Marx
The Daily Astorian
GEARHART — Opponents to Gearhart’s short-term rental rules have borrowed from a national political playbook in a new challenge.
Local residents have filed a petition initiative to “repeal and replace” the rules enacted last fall.
“Both my husband and I would really like to see a more reasonable approach,” said Joy Sigler, who with Brian Sigler and Sarah Nebeker are the chief petitioners. “That’s why we were motivated to sign it. As is, it’s not good for local people. And we’re local. You can’t get any more local than us.”
County Commissioner Nebeker represents District 2, which covers Gearhart and the Clatsop Plains and portions of Seaside and Warrenton.
Sigler, owner of the Pacific Crest Cottage, said the city’s rules would limit options for her children and hurt her business, based in Gearhart.
“Not only have you taken away the choice that my children should have to rent this short term, you’ve also eliminated a lot of guests to the community, which is my customer base,” Sigler said. “You’ve hurt me on two levels. And there are a lot of local people who are going to feel the very same way.”
Seeking new rules
The city’s rules, enacted last October, regulate occupancy limits, parking and property management contact information, among other measures. Vacation rental permits are transferable only by inheritance.
“If you deprive people who have bought their homes or owned their homes for a very long time, the ability to rent there, you are causing great financial harm to their offspring, No. 1,” Gearhart homeowner and petition advocate David Townsend said today. “You’re hurting existing homeowners, existing residents, and it’s done in a very spiteful way by a few people, the former mayor and council members because they really want to get rid of vacation rentals in Gearhart.”
The result, he said, will be “a huge economic hit.”
“If you shut down vacation rentals in Gearhart, people don’t come there,” Townsend said. “If people don’t come there, they don’t frequent and use the businesses that exist in Gearhart. So all of the businesses are hurt in Gearhart.”
To apply for a permit, residents faced a requirement to establish grandfather status by requiring proof that lodging taxes were paid on the vacation rental property prior to the end of the 60-day registration period.
The 60-day, one-time application period ended in mid-December.
Applicants — 84 to date, according to City Administrator Chad Sweet — have until June 14 to complete the registration process.
Homeowners who did not apply for a permit and continue to rent are considered in violation of the ordinance and subject to a $500 fine for each day of offense.
The initiative petition seeks to undo major aspects of the rules, which are also being challenged at the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.
“We’re trying to take things back where the same thing applies to everybody,” Townsend said. “The big thing is allowing people when they sell their homes to allow people to pass along their rental permits, as long as they comply with all the rules.”
Repeal and replace
According to the city’s ballot title summary, the repeal would remove the limitation on the number of vacation rentals. Permits could be transferred to new dwelling unit owners, a change from rules which call for elimination of short-term rental licenses through attrition.
Maximum occupancy, currently at two people over the age of 2 per bedroom, would change to two people over the age of 12 per bedroom, plus three additional people over the age of 12 per dwelling unit, with no limit on children under 12.
According to the city, the petition seeks to eliminate requirements for off-street parking, residential appearance, and garbage services, as well as eliminate septic sewer capacity inspections and cesspool prohibitions.
The initiative would repeal 30-minute response time from rental property representatives, a condition Townsend called “ludicrous.”
“If it’s a problem where nobody needs to be there until the next day, why does somebody need to be there?” Townsend said. “It’s a death of 1,000 cuts.”
If the draft ballot title is not appealed within seven days, Sweet said, petitioners will then need 175 signatures to put the measure on the November ballot, a number representing 15 percent of registered voters at the time of the filing date.
Signatures must be submitted by July 8 and verified by Aug. 10.
If verified signatures are not obtained by that date, petitioners could continue their signature drive and file for an election within a two-year period, Sweet said.
In the meantime, the city’s short-term rental rules will continue to be enforced.
As of March 30, Gearhart has taken in about $64,000 in rental fees and “closer to $90,000” in lodging room tax, Sweet said.
Taxes and fees are deposited in the city’s general fund before being split into different departments.
The first year, revenue is designated for code enforcement and legal fees, Sweet said.
In the future, funds may be split between police, firefighters, code enforcement, parks and maintenance associated with tourism, he said.
Other parties — or the city — could provide competing initiatives.
“Once we’ve gotten to the point where they’ve got enough signatures, this initiative will go to the council and the council will decide whether to go to the November ballot, accept the initiative as it is, or file a counter-initiative,” Sweet said.
Sigler said the proposed repeal “is reasonable and is taking into consideration freedom, fairness and reason.”
“My children can’t even apply the way the ordinance is written right now,” Sigler said. “I find that very offensive. I want them to have as many options as possible so they can keep this home and enjoy it.”