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Ballots in vacation rental fight head to voters in Gearhart

Short-term rental rules, years in the making, face repeal
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on October 19, 2017 7:24AM

Last changed on October 26, 2017 7:16AM

A polling sign in front of Gearhart City Hall. Voters in November will decide the fate of a measure to repeal and replace the city’s short-term rental ordinance.

R.J. Marx/SEASIDE SIGNAL

A polling sign in front of Gearhart City Hall. Voters in November will decide the fate of a measure to repeal and replace the city’s short-term rental ordinance.

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Ballot box at Gearhart City Hall.

R.J. Marx/SEASIDE SIGNAL

Ballot box at Gearhart City Hall.

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Ballot drop site sign in front of Gearhart City Hall.

R.J. Marx/SEASIDE SIGNAL

Ballot drop site sign in front of Gearhart City Hall.

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Residents in Gearhart perceive the vote to repeal and replace vacation rental rules to be a dramatic turning point that could determine the future look and direction of the community.

With ballots on their way today to the city’s 1,245 registered voters, advocates of Measure 4-188 say the new rules take away their property rights and will cost the city millions in lost tourism dollars.

City officials and many residents counter that a repeal would jeopardize Gearhart’s residential character. They, too, say property rights are at stake and that the rules promote much-needed long-term rental housing.

Vote “no” advocates warn repeal could lead to overcrowding and health and safety hazards.

The issue comes to a head at the ballot box on Nov. 7, the result of years of discussion and debate.


Ongoing debate


In 2013, city leaders and residents raised concerns over “renters’ mentality” and how vacation rentals in residential zones can negatively affect the atmosphere and livability.

At the time, the taxing ordinance for short-term rental properties provided exemption for the approximately 50 single-family homes rented out under the city’s guidelines. The owners were required to pay Oregon’s 1 percent lodging tax but did not have to pay Gearhart’s 7 percent lodging tax, through an exemption that had been put in place in the 1990s so those dwellings could be rented without paying taxes.

Gearhart City Administrator Chad Sweet estimated that the city was losing about $95,000 a year because of the exemption.

That exemption was removed in 2016 and short-term renters were required to pay the city’s 7 percent lodging tax.

Another challenge for the city was the absence of an ordinance requiring inspections or spelling out occupancy limits for vacation rentals.

An acute countywide housing shortage also drove the conversation.

Increased online rental activity and reports of loud parties, overcrowding and blocked roadways drew greater calls for action.

By 2015, an increase in online bookings led to more than a doubling of bookings in Gearhart, through companies like Vacasa, HomeAway and Airbnb. Complaints that out-of-town management was unable to promptly reply to public safety concerns led to an increased call for regulation, particularly a provision requiring 24-hour owner contact information.

After a series of hearings, including standing-room-only public workshops in the Gearhart Fire Hall, the Planning Commission crafted rules in May 2016 detailing occupancy limits, parking rules and property management contact information.

According to rules, rental properties must maintain a “residential appearance,” and provide weekly garbage service. Homes are required to conduct fire and safety inspections, and post a tsunami evacuation map in the dwelling.

The proposed regulation capped registration to existing short-term rental properties and established a $600 permit fee.

Provisions included permit transfer only by inheritance, not sale. Applicants had to show proof of having paid the lodging tax in 2016.

In early September 2016, after what City Planner Carole Connell said were “30 meetings and eight draft reports,” the City Council passed Ordinance 901 unanimously without discussion.

Property owners who met the conditions faced a Dec. 16 permit application deadline.

As of Oct. 1, 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, according to the city administrator.


Appeals, petition


After the new regulations were adopted, two separate groups sought to overturn the rules in the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

They said they were not against some aspects of the rules, but opposed what they said were plans to eliminate short-term rentals altogether.

They cited inconsistencies in how the city defined “residential character,” among other issues.

Before a decision was rendered, property owners David Townsend, Joy Sigler, Brian Sigler and Sarah Nebeker in March filed a challenge seeking a ballot initiative that would repeal and replace the ordinance. Nebeker serves on the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners.

Their proposed 15-point ordinance sought 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.”

A city summary of the ballot initiative was changed as a result of a decision issued by Circuit Court Judge Dawn McIntosh in May.

Their ballot petition received more than 200 signatures, bringing the matter to voters.

On May 30, the Land Use Board of Appeals upheld provisions of the ordinance.

Vigorous campaigning, including lawn signs, newspaper and radio debates and door-to-door outreach, have marked the election so far.


Measure 4-188


Question: Shall Gearhart’s vacation rental dwellings ordinance be repealed and replaced?

Summary: If approved, the ordinance would:

• Require $600 annual permit fees dedicated to police and fire departments;

• Permit transfers to new dwelling unit owners;

• Change maximum occupancy from two persons over 2 years old per bedroom to two persons over 12 years old per bedroom, plus three additional people over 12 per dwelling unit, no limit on children under 12;

• Repeal ordinances imposing special regulations on vacation rental dwellings related to off street parking, residential appearance, garbage service, septic sewer capacity inspections and cesspool prohibitions.

• Require compliance with Gearhart city ordinances that apply generally to all residential dwelling units;

• Eliminate requirement that a 24-hour representative be able to physically respond to the site within 30 minutes;

• Allow safety inspections to be conducted by any licensed home inspector;

• Make dwelling unit owners responsible for self-reporting inspection issues, and provide a six month cure period, for any deficiencies;

• Remove current limitation on the number of vacation rentals;

• Require public vote for amendment of the vacation rental ordinance or any subsequent ordinance relating to vacation rentals.



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