LINCOLN COUNTY — The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners will hold a virtual workshop next week regarding the future of vacation rental regulations in unincorporated areas.
The board instituted a freeze on new vacation rental licenses in March of last year in order to consider amendments to the county code, following a year in which the number of licensed short-term rental properties in unincorporated areas grew by about 40 percent, from 428 to 600. Considerations were delayed as county officials focused on last year’s dual emergencies, the coronavirus pandemic and wildfires, and the board has extended the moratorium four times.
It’s now set to expire June 1 — commissioners will hold two virtual workshops early this year, discuss the product of those workshops and the sum of public input submitted in writing (hundreds of pages from the past year), and hope to approve new code language by March. The board gave itself extra time to avoid another short-term extension of the moratorium should their efforts be delayed. The freeze can be lifted if amendments are approved prior to the expiration date.
A memorandum from County Counsel Wayne Belmont presented to the board in November identified several prospective changes, including:
• Capping occupancy at two people per bedroom and six per residence (current regulations allow three per bedroom plus two — a two bedroom house would have an occupancy limit of eight). This limitation would apply to all guests, not just overnight. According to Belmont’s memorandum, “This would also effectively preclude the common issue where a short-term rental is used for a party, wedding or other event venue during the day/evening, far exceeding the capacity at those times.”
• Requiring a septic system inspection and capacity determination, which would add another layer of occupancy limitation.
• Revising the current “three strikes” policy, under which a license can be revoked for three verified complaints that are not addressed or corrected in a timely manner. “That means a property could have say five noise issues (all timely responded to and addressed) but still have no verified complaints,” Belmont’s memorandum reads. “Recurring problems with renters may not be adequately addressed in this situation. Likewise, we need to have mechanisms that ensure that an invalid or unsubstantiated complaint does not become a verified complaint penalizing a property owner improperly.”
• A possible cap on the total number of licenses and potential caps specific to geographic areas.
All board meetings since March have been conducted remotely, and written submissions have been the only means for the public to offer comment. To facilitate real-time input, the county has purchased a Zoom Pro videoconferencing license for use in the workshops and future meetings. Registration will be required to participate, and information on how to register is forthcoming to the county’s workshop page at tinyurl.com/y2clt3xy, where a link to provide written comment can also be found.
Public Information Officer Casey Miller said he understood the registration process might be difficult for some, but staff felt it was the best way to ensure the meeting was secure. The workshop will stream live on the county’s YouTube page at tinyurl.com/y7kexl4u.
Considering the flood of comments already submitted on the subject, demand for the interactive option is likely to be high. Featuring prominently in commentary thus far have been the organizers of 15neighboorhoods, a group targeting short-term rental regulation via the ballot.
15neighboorhoods argues that short-term rentals hurt the quality of life in residential neighborhoods and reduce area workforce housing stock. The organization is circulating a petition to add a measure to the May 18 ballot that, if passed by voters, would prohibit by ordinance new licenses in low-density, single-family residential zones in unincorporated Lincoln County, and it would phase out existing licenses in those zones after five years. In his November memorandum, Belmont said he was concerned the passage of the ordinance could expose the county to litigation and monetary claims.
Members of a coalition of rental property managers, VIAOregon, have also been regularly featured in public comments. They say the majority of renters are good neighbors and tout the economic contribution of vacation properties in local employment and room tax revenue.