Short-term rental proposal outlined by Planning Commission

A proposal to allow short-term vacation rentals in residential Ocean Shores neighborhoods near the ocean was formally presented by the Planning Commission to the City Council Monday night.

Although no action was taken, there was wide-ranging comment pro and con. Short-term rentals are now only allowed in an area largely confined to the downtown area and around Damon Point and the Marina, in B-1 retail/commercial and B-2 general commercial zones.

“I am absolutely opposed to what is being proposed,” said longtime resident Lillian Broadbent, noting previous proposals on short-term rentals were rejected by votes from citizens. “It really is a people’s issue and it should be up to the people,” Broadbent said.

Proponents contend increasing vacation rental opportunities will enhance economic opportunities as well as help maintain properties.

“Weekend rentals have to be the best-kept homes in the neighborhood,” said Thorn Ward of John L. Scott real estate and a longtime resident who also maintains two vacation rentals.

The new “overlay zone provision” proposed by the Planning Commission would apply to all properties west of Ocean Shores Boulevard, and all properties south of Marine View Drive to Damon Point.

The definition of short-term vacation rental as spelled out in the Planning Commission recommendation would be “any dwelling or condominium or portion thereof that is available for use or is used for accommodations or lodging of guests, paying a fee or the compensation for a period of less than 30 consecutive days.” Under the new policy, using a home for a short-term rental would require a permit from the Planning Department.

Three Planning Commission members presented the proposal, with Greg Cox noting, “We are not a decision-making body.” He acknowledged there were different sides to the issue.

“It’s not going to get any easier. We are really not going to convince people that are in the various camps,” he said.

Showing a map of the proposal, Cox noted it was generally about 10 percent of the lots in Ocean Shores. Provisions in the document were meant to satisfy public concerns, he said.

A short-term vacation rental permit and occupancy tax registration are required for each short-term rental unit. The application must detail number of rooms and people the property will accommodate, the name of a local property manager and phone number of a local contact person. It also must include plans for parking and trash management, proof of a city business license, and a copy of the proposed rental agreement.

Other requirements:

• The applicant must produce proof to the Planning Department of homeowner’s liability insurance coverage.

• The application must include a statement from city building or fire officials affirming the property and structures comply with all applicable building codes and fire codes, as well as a statement affirming all taxes, fees and other charges have been paid.

Short-term vacation rental permits would be valid for one year from the date they are issued if such a proposal was adopted by the City Council.

“Are there issues with lifestyles on overnight rentals? Yes, but there are ways to control those,” said Jim Donahoe of Windermere Real Estate in Ocean Shores, whose family moved to the area in 1962.

Donahoe noted he first proposed expanding short-term rentals to the city two years ago. “If somebody has a better alternative revenue stream for the city, please stand up,” Donahoe said. “It’s been two years, where is that alternative?”

Another opponent of the proposal, Marlene Penry, disputed the premise that there were “hundreds of illegal overnight rentals so we are losing tax revenue.” Penry also disputed a contention that real estate sales were being lost because of the policy that prevents overnight rentals in residential zones.

“I have talked to people who say they wouldn’t have bought their house here if people could do it,” Penry said.

Commission member Eric Noble, who manages the Worldmark Mariner Village on Ocean Shores Boulevard, said the Planning Commission took a lot of time looking at the issue and noted the Planning Commission looked at short-term rentals in a number of areas, including how they were regulated in Port Townsend, Palm Springs and several coastal communities. “It’s a pretty thorough understanding of the effect it would have on the residents here,” he said of measures in place to take care of most issues.

Planning Commission member Dan Bricker said he was against the proposal at the beginning but became convinced it was best for Ocean Shores: “I think it’s probably a pretty good thing to have Ocean Shores do on a limited basis.”

Council members appeared to want more details, such as the number of houses and properties that would be affected in the area, how many short-term rentals now exist legally in the city, and what the potential economic benefits would be, something the Planning Commission did not quantify. “The biggest argument about why we would do it would be economic feasibility,” said Council member Jon Martin. “I just don’t see a reason why we would do short-term rentals if there wasn’t an economic reason to do it.”

Pt. Brown on hold

The Council also appears ready to put the brakes on the Pt. Brown sidewalks/crosswalks and bike lane project, with discussion on how to return the remaining grant funding and how to restart a public review process on the future of the city’s main boulevard.

“We need to do something with Pt. Brown, but we don’t know exactly what that something is,” Martin said. The project was driven by grants, forcing the city “to make decisions that for the long-term we maybe don’t want as a city.”

Options include scaling the project back, along with creating development standards that currently don’t exist.

“The biggest part is going to be for the Council to decide if they truly are going to give the grant money back,” Mayor Crystal Dingler said. The city had received an initial federal grant for preliminary engineering, with commitments from the Grays Harbor Council of Governments, the federal Transportation Alternative Program, and the state Transportation Improvement Board.

Dingler said meeting the grant requirements was driving the cost of the project too high for the city to continue.

“It was too much,” she said.