More than 19 months and hundreds of pages of public input were condensed by the Lincoln County Office of County Counsel into draft recommendations for the Short Term Rental (STR) Business Licensing Program, delivered to the county commissioners shortly before their March 29 meeting. They fall short, missing the mark when it comes to providing relief to neighborhoods in unincorporated Lincoln County.
As ViaOregon, Vacasa, Meredith and others push to expand the number of STRs along the coast, our neighborhoods are being redefined. Outside investors are acquiring as many residential homes and vacant lots as possible along the coast to expand their STR pool. Homeowners are being peppered with offers to buy and rent their home. Vacasa, for example, states “a unique characteristic of Vacasa is our ability to offer unparalleled financial results to our homeowners,” and “Our general premise is simple: you should earn more before we earn anything.” This is from a letter by Vacasa’s co-founder and CEO Eric Breon.
These businesses seek after diversity in style, views and price so that more people can come and enjoy the beauty of the coast without any of the responsibilities required of a good neighbor. The county’s draft recommendations look at STR caps, the three-strikes rule, septic system requirements and the number of people per rental. However, they completely fail to address the heart of the problem: what truly makes and defines a neighborhood?
So, what truly makes and defines a neighborhood? What makes a good neighbor? They say “hi” as we pass during our walks. Sometimes we engage in impromptu talk as we encounter each other. We interact with each other: inviting each other for a cup of coffee, to a barbecue, to play a game or to watch a sports event. We can rely on each other to watch our homes while we are on vacation. We lend a hand with yard projects. When considering a contractor, a neighbor’s advice can be invaluable. Neighbors offer help when there is a medical need, perhaps a trip to the ER. Some just need a shoulder to lean on after suffering loss. They will pick up items for one another during a trip to town. Sometimes they care for each other’s pets; sometimes they babysit. Involved homeowners will volunteer to serve on the HOA board, to serve on a committee, or volunteer for the road district.
These are the things that strengthen neighborhoods. These are the things that make them good and where people and families want to live. As STRs proliferate, there will be fewer homeowners volunteering for these important responsibilities, fewer personal interactions and connections, and fewer families desiring to live here.
STRs are a cancer to residential neighborhoods, eating away at their fabric, vitality and livability. Limit the number of STRs in areas zoned for residential living, phasing them out over time. Restrict them to areas not designated for residential units, where they can help address the seasonal influx of visitors. Encourage the growth of motels in Lincoln County to meet this need. Consider the successful city of Hood River model.
This STR nightmare could not be foreseen years ago. The protective HOA guidelines, CC&Rs (conditions, covenants and restrictions), did not address them when our neighborhood, Sandpiper Village, was established in 1968. Now it is nearly impossible to add provisions. Residents are desperate, hopeless and angry, seeing that nothing is being done to stop the influx of STRs. They are frustrated with county inaction regarding STR complaints. Support is needed for neighborhoods, not businesses. We want our neighborhoods back.
Roger Keehn is a homeowner in Sandpiper Village near Waldport.