Gearhart seeks more public input on short-term rentals

Vacasa rental sign on a Gearhart home.

A boon for some, a nuisance to others

By R.J. Marx

Seaside Signal

Do nothing. Require a city business license. Registration. Building safety inspection. Not allow any rentals in Gearhart.

Those are some of the proposed options from City Manager Chad Sweet shared at the Gearhart City Council meeting last week.

City councilors reconsidered the merits of a poll to determine the city’s direction on the regulation of short-term rental properties in Gearhart and eventually approved one, but not before the public sounded off on both sides of the issue.

The discussion was in response to a request from the Planning Commission and City Council to collect information on short-term rentals in Gearhart. A determination by the council could begin the process of formulating a short-term rental policy.

Nine Gearhart property owners cited what they said were “inaccuracies, double-counted data and speculation” in the city’s data so far.

They said the numbers received on the issue were not included in the city’s count, and asked the council to “provide all its data for our review.”

“Why were all letters received since 2014 not included in the materials distributed to the City Council members?” the property owners asked. “Unfortunately, we keep seeing a significant amount of information showing up that was not produced for the dates previously requested. As a public body, there is a level of accountability to all your constituents, and we in turn support your efforts and time to serve our community.”

“If you look at the homes that are on the list, the majority I have found have actually been rented as rentals for decades, if not for at least five years or more,” Kathy Schroeder, among the signatories of the letter, told the council.

In opposition to short-term rental regulation, Schroeder said this was not an “inundation” of new homes that Gearhart needed to “be afraid of and get control of, like a parent needs to get control of their child.”

Jim Whittemore, who, with his wife Laurie also signed the letter, said there was not yet enough information for the council to form an opinion or a consensus on proposed regulation.

Whittemore asked the council to “take a look at the existing ordinances on the books and seeing how you can strengthen those, enact those and enforce those.”

“I do agree the numbers are not exact, but they give a pretty good flavor,” Sweet said.

“There has been an increase in homes, there has been an increase in numbers,” he added, estimating “very conservatively” about 80 short-term rental properties in Gearhart.

He said all data and submissions were available for public review.

Property owner Terry Graff said he sought city regulation because of noise, congestion and garbage from nearby short-term rental properties. “One day we had four pickups, a boat, and a car in our driveway because of a short-term rental,” Graff said. “And those were not people who were renting five years ago. Those were people who were renting last summer.”

Cottage Avenue resident Wilson Mark said he was against a poll, preferring to rely on the city’s already-existing comprehensive plan. “If we’re going to take a poll, why do we have a comprehensive plan?” Mark asked, referring to goals in the document to “preserve the low density, semi-rural character of Gearhart,” and “to ensure that development occurs in a manner that is in harmony with the sensitive coastal environment that defines Gearhart.”

“Let’s work with the plan and get it going,” Mark said.

Cost of a poll is estimated about $1,700, plus staff time for mailing and result tally, Sweet said.

A proposed short-term rental survey would be sent to homeowners either as an insert in water bills, as a postcard or online.

Councilor Sue Lorain, who led the meeting in the absence of Mayor Dianne Widdop, asked council members to bypass the poll and work with information delivered. “We obviously need regulation, so I think we should start on a plan,” Lorain said. “I’m not in favor of a poll. I think it’s an exercise in futility.”

Other councilors preferred further public input. “I feel it’s necessary to get a feeling what the people in Gearhart want,” Councilor Kerry Smith said. “If they don’t want regulation on short-term rentals, then they’ll put it in a poll. Then we won’t have wasted all this time if we’d started making regulations. I’ve personally stated we need short-term rental restrictions. But I’m willing to let people put their money where their mouth is and tell us what they want. If we get a majority saying we don’t want regulation, I will back down.”

Councilors Paulina Cockrum and Dan Jesse agreed the poll would be the best step, with poll content to be developed over the next several weeks.

Highlights from Gearhart’s short-term rental update

More than 10,000 people come through Gearhart through rentals, according to City Manager Chad Sweet. Of the city’s 1,200 homes with water connections, more than 80 are used for short-term rentals. Thirty-five of those allow occupancy of 10 or more, he said, adding that those may be the same homes listed on different online sites.

Homes known to Gearhart

January 2015 — 65

March 2015 — 65

July 2015 — 75

October 2015 — 82

Net 17-home increase in 10 months

Seven homes removed for various reasons

One home under construction for potential short-term rental

Approximately 35 homes allow 10 or more occupants.

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