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In Gearhart, short-term rentals were big issue of 2017

Published on December 22, 2017 12:31PM

Last changed on December 22, 2017 5:27PM

In an off-year in the election cycle, Gearhart voters were roused to the polls by an issue that had polarized the city for years. After debate, discussion and mountains of public comment, voters agreed that short-term rental properties needed regulation. The at-times heated discussion played out on social media, in the press and on the street corners as neighbors voiced sharply differing opinions. The Nov. 7 vote put an end to the talk — at least for now.

Meanwhile, Gearhart firefighters heeded the call and joined strike teams from throughout the state and around the country to battle blazes throughout the West. And a the fire department looks ahead to the future, a new fire station promises to be the big issue of 2018 — the 100th year of the city’s incorporation and 60 years since the current fire station on Pacific Way was built by volunteers.

After months of debate and nearly five years of discussion, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have repealed Gearhart’s vacation rental rules. The measure failed 77 percent to 23 percent.

More than 100 residents who campaigned against the repeal filled a room at McMenamins Gearhart Hotel and shared their moment of victory as votes came in election night, Nov. 8.

The trail to Measure 4-188 began in 2013, when city leaders and residents sought to improve the stock of long-term rental housing amid concerns about how vacation rentals in residential zones can negatively affect the city’s atmosphere and livability.

At the time, the taxing ordinance for short-term rental properties provided exemptions for the approximately 50 single-family homes rented out under the city’s guidelines.

Repeal of that tax came nearly three years later, when short-term renters were required to pay the city’s 7 percent lodging tax.

By 2016, the nature of the internet and booking trends through companies like Vacasa and Airbnb added to concerns that short-term rentals would limit long-term housing stock and could be detrimental to the city’s quality of life.

Residents in favor of regulating vacation rentals cited Gearhart’s comprehensive plan, written in 1994 and expressing the intent to recognize the importance of the city’s residential neighborhoods and the need to protect them from the negative impacts of rental property. Complaints that out-of-town management was unable to promptly reply to public safety concerns led to an increased call for regulation, including a provision requiring 24-hour owner contact information.

In presenting Measure 4-188 to voters, opponents of regulation stressed property rights and said the rule changes go “far beyond” common-sense measures.

The ballot measure would have changed limits on permit transfers and maximum occupancy and repealed special regulations imposed on vacation rentals. The rules cover off-street parking, residential appearance, garbage service, septic sewer capacity inspections and cesspool prohibitions.

The measure would have also eliminated a requirement that a 24-hour representative be able to physically respond to the site within 30 minutes and removed a limitation on the number of vacation rentals.

So far, 73 vacation rental permits have been approved under the ordinance, with another 14 pending. A registry is available online.

Seaside and Gearhart’s “bravest” stepped forward to battle wildfires from Oregon to Southern California.

This summer, California sent resources to Oregon to fight blazes in the Chetco Bar Fire in Brookings and the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge.

In October, crews were mobilized and on their way down Interstate 5 to fight in the Santa Rosa region, sleeping in tents outside the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Oregon firefighters offered relief to local crews whose resources had been spread thin.

Crews cleared brush fires and put out hot spots in an effort to contain blazes driven by the wind, reaching speeds of 60 mph at times.

Local firefighters from the Oregon Strike Team are heading home as California wildfire conditions continue to stabilize.

Five members of the Seaside Fire Department and three members of the Gearhart Fire Department joined the Clatsop County Task Force and crews from throughout the West to battle wildfires in California’s Napa Valley.

Gearhart Chief Bill Eddy was among Gearhart firefighters in California. The department had the role of looking for and extinguishing spot fires.

Gearhart firefighters also joined teams fighting the Thomas Fire near Ventura, California. Demobilization began Dec. 19.

New firehouse

The city is looking for alternatives to a new firehouse on public parkland, a proposal that met with strong pushback at a public forum in May.

With some willing property owners, conversations about potential sites are underway.

The current firehouse consists of a cinder-block building at 670 Pacific Way, built in 1958, and is considered outdated and vulnerable to earthquake and tsunami. While built “fairly stoutly,” according to geologist Tom Horning, who has served as a consultant for the city and is a Seaside city councilor, the property is likely to flood even in a moderate tsunami, prompting discussion of a new location.

Brown said he hopes to present the new locations, along with cost breakdowns, to the public this fall.

After a two-year study of nine locations, the firehouse committee narrowed the choices down to three: Gearhart Park at the corner of South Marion and Pacific Way; the current firehouse on Pacific Way; and Trail’s End, directly across from the fire station on the south side of Pacific Way.

The Trail’s End site was eliminated because of low elevation, poor soil quality and public opposition. Locations to the east are vulnerable to flooding from the Neacoxie.

But at a May public forum, many residents expressed their discontent with the park even being considered as an option. Despite the park’s 48-foot elevation — the fire station property stands at an elevation of 27 feet — the proposal met stiff resistance. Many of those who spoke said they considered the park a part of the “character of the town.”

Gearhart’s firehouse committee is now putting finishing touches on a new proposal listing sites under consideration.

At the city’s December City Council meeting, Mayor Matt Brown said a proposal listing three sites could be presented at a February public forum.


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