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Repeal of Gearhart vacation rental rules heads to voters

Opponents clear hurdle for November election
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on July 11, 2017 8:57AM

Last changed on July 26, 2017 9:33AM

Vacasa rental sign on a Gearhart home.


Vacasa rental sign on a Gearhart home.

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The ballot initiative seeking to repeal Gearhart’s short-term rental rules.


The ballot initiative seeking to repeal Gearhart’s short-term rental rules.

Voters in November will get to decide the fate of Gearhart’s vacation rental rules.

The bid to repeal and replace the regulations issued last fall gathered enough valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

The initiative was presented to the City Council Wednesday, July 6. City councilors had three options: pass the repeal and replace ordinance; reject the ordinance and allow voters to decide in November; or reject the ordinance and come up with a competing alternative.

The council unanimously voted to reject the ordinance and put it on the ballot.

“We fully expected the City Council to reject our ordinance,” Jim Whittemore, who owns a short-term rental property, said Thursday. “Now it is on the ballot. We submitted 242 signatures, which is significant.”

According to the revised summary, submitted by David Townsend, Brian and Joy Sigler and Sarah Nebeker, the ballot measure would repeal the special regulations on vacation rentals related to off-street parking, residential appearance, garbage service, septic-sewer capacity inspections and cesspool requirements not required of other city residents.

“Our message will show that we care as much about Gearhart as full-time residents do,” Whittemore said. “We always have. I think that once residents see how much 82 vacation homeowners pay in property taxes and that we will pay close to $50,000 a year for police and fire services, which equates to $500,000 over the next 10 years — that our vacation rental ordinance is far more beneficial to the city and the residents of Gearhart than the current ordinance.”

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.

‘A responsible cap’

Mayor Matt Brown stood by the city’s rules. “Our current vacation rental laws are working very well,” Brown said. “We have a responsible cap while allowing all current vacation rentals to continue to rent. Substandard septic and cesspools are being repaired and replaced, and bedrooms are being updated with fire egresses to protect children, families and our property owners.”

Brown said that the ordinance has stimulated more available housing for full-time residents, who choose Gearhart for “its quiet residential nature.”

The city’s rules regulate short-term rental occupancy limits, parking and property management contact information, among other provisions.

Permits are transferable only by inheritance, not by the sale of the property.

Brown said language in the new proposal is “very dangerous” to the quiet residential nature of the community and against the language in the city’s comprehensive plan.

The revised ordinance would eliminate the ability to protect residents from negative impacts, he said, and allows an unlimited number of commercial vacation rentals in residential zones.

According to Brown, the proposal would eliminate septic inspections for high-occupancy rentals and eliminate state certified fire and life safety inspections. “I believe it’s my sworn duty to reject something that could put lives in danger,” Brown said.

Headed to vote

City Administrator Chad Sweet said Thursday that 84 Gearhart property owners had registered their homes as short-term rentals.

Gearhart has about 1,400 voters on its rolls, Sweet said. While the deadline has passed for homeowners to apply for short-term rental permits, the city has extended the period for property owners to make improvements required by the city’s current ordinance. Window replacement or installation for safety egress, septic upgrades, cesspool replacement and other fire and life safety issues comprise the majority of repairs or upgrades needed to meet city standards.

Once the city delivers a notice of election, the initiative will be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot, County Clerk Valerie Crafard said.

Brown said, “I am looking forward to our citizens getting the true facts on the differences between our current common-sense vacation rental rules and their new repeal ordinance allowing unlimited commercial vacation rentals. I have the utmost faith that our citizens will decide what’s best for the future of our quiet residential community.”


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