Just whose rights are at issue in Gearhart as voters consider repealing vacation rental rules in November?
Supporters of Measure 4-188 want to repeal and replace rules enacted last fall related to off-street parking, appearance, garbage service, septic inspections and cesspool prohibitions. The measure would require home inspections and make owners responsible for self-reporting issues.
More than 200 voters signed a petition in support of the measure, short-term rental owner Jim Whittemore said.
Meanwhile, Gearhart is heavily dotted with “Vote No” lawn signs in a campaign led by a coalition of residents, including Mayor Matt Brown and former Mayor Dianne Widdop.
A “no” vote will continue a balanced and responsible cap on rental properties, Brown said, and safety inspections keep visitors safe.
“I was elected to protect our citizens’ rights,” Brown said. “Our quality of life shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of profit.”
Septic regulations will “protect neighbors from high commercial use,” he added.
Both sides say property rights are at risk.
Whittemore said the flaw in the current law “is that it takes away property rights from all homeowners.”
Measure opponent Jeanne Mark said “common-sense” caps to short-term rentals and safety rules protect residential private property rights.
According to the ballot summary by David Townsend, Brian and Joy Sigler and County Commissioner Sarah Nebeker, the measure would repeal special regulations on vacation rentals not required of other residents.
Nebeker, a Gearhart resident, spoke in opposition to the city’s short-term rental ordinance in April, when she said the ordinance was too harsh and with modifications could be made more equitable.
“Ordinances and laws are only as good as the ability to enforce them,” measure supporter Katherine Schroeder said in a letter to The Daily Astorian.
The city has failed to regularly and consistently enforce ordinances which already regulate garbage, septic, parking and appearance of properties, she said.
According to Schroeder, an overly restrictive vacation rental ordinance will force rental homeowners underground.
“A likely unintended consequence of the City Council’s ordinance is just this: unpermitted, uninspected and possibly unsafe homes,” she wrote.
As of the end of September, 81 vacation rental dwelling permits have been issued, 57 of which are complete and processed, six pending parking plans, 15 working on upgrades after inspection and three awaiting initial inspection, City Administrator Chad Sweet said.
Whittemore said in addition to lodging taxes and fees, short-term rental homeowners pay more than $300,000 per year in property taxes.
“That is a total of a half-million dollars per year paid by 84 homeowners in the vacation rental program … all to local government.”
The city budget for this fiscal year anticipates collections of about $360,000, Sweet said.
Quality of life
The November vote is the latest step in the conversation started in 2013 when members of the Planning Commission and City Council considered changes to the way short-term rental properties are taxed and regulated within the city.
At the time, Gearhart had no ordinance requiring inspections or occupancy limits for vacation rentals.
Fourteen property owners filed an appeal with the state after adoption of regulations last fall. The state Land Use Board of Appeals upheld the city’s short-term rental rules in June.
Meanwhile, supporters of repeal and replace gathered enough signatures to put the countermeasure on the ballot.
Vacation rentals have always been a part of Gearhart, Townsend said in a September letter to The Daily Astorian. “They are not a threat to our ‘quiet residential community,’ nor are they ‘high commercial use’ as the mayor claims.”
Ballots will be mailed to voters Oct. 18. Election Day is Nov. 7.