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Our view: Gearhart should vote ‘no’ on repealing vacation rental rules

City councilors can address any flaws in the short-term rental ordinance

Published on October 19, 2017 12:01AM

Mention short-term rentals anywhere on the North Coast and it’s bound to stir up a hornet’s nest on property rights. Gearhart is a prime example.

Gearhart voters are being asked in an initiative, Measure 4-188, whether to repeal and replace the city’s vacation rentals ordinance. The initiative has the town split between “Yes” and ”No” factions, with both sides deeply divided and accusations flying back and forth. No matter the outcome, the issue isn’t going away and the two sides must work together to resolve their differences.

We believe the best course of action is for Gearhart’s residents to say “no” to the measure and urge city councilors to modify the existing ordinance — which has been in effect only a year — to correct any flaws. The council should listen to all residents, not just the “no’s,” and be open to making fixes. Here’s why:

The ordinance, No. 901, was unanimously approved by the City Council and took effect late last year, prior to the general election. It came about after several years of expensive and painstaking development with overflowing public hearings and a compromise that grandfathered existing vacation rentals of less than 30 days as long as the owners applied and paid fees during a one-time, 60-day permitting period. It introduced regulations including occupancy limits, off-street parking plans, septic inspection requirements and permit transfer prohibitions that were never in place throughout Gearhart’s history.

A high percentage of Gearhart’s homes aren’t owner-occupied, and some owners voiced loud objections. A contentious point is that the ordinance prohibits the transfer of a rental permit except in the case of inheritance, and those who don’t have a permit but may want one don’t have an option now to obtain one. The law was appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which said it fit the city’s comprehensive plan and upheld it, further spurring the repeal and replace measure.

While the ordinance doesn’t apply to rentals of more than 30 days, it does have potential flaws. One is the permitting was based on a cap rather than a percentage of homes. A percentage could have allowed more rentals with future city growth without greatly changing the landscape as it now exists, opponents say. Another is that while early last year the city amended its municipal code to require short-term rentals to pay a room tax for overnight lodging, the ordinance itself doesn’t contain language defining a rental as a business or that a rental requires payment, even though that would seem obvious by the term “rental.” As such, opponents say, someone who allows a friend to stay for a short time while looking for work or housing could technically be in violation even if money doesn’t change hands. If that’s the case, that’s a reason to make a small fix, not blow it up.

Measure 4-188 is far more of a “nuclear option” than a fix. It not only repeals the existing ordinance, it replaces it with language that would allow unlimited short-term rentals and could eliminate some of the intended safeguards the council put in place. Importantly, it would tie the hands of future city councils because the replacement would require a public vote, rather than City Council action, on any amendment of the vacation rental ordinance or subsequent ordinances relating to vacation rentals.

Gearhart voters elected their councilors to govern, and rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, they should vote “no” on repeal and replace and tell the council to address the issue further.


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