Voices: ‘No need to change’ vacation rental policies

Editor’s Note: This opinion is published in response to the Aug. 2, 2018 Voices Q&A with Jeff Daniel, Planning Commission chair, on the issue of short-term or nightly vacation rental policy in Ocean Shores.

The people signing this editorial, listed alphabetically, are “part of a group that has been researching this topic and gathering input from neighbors, both full time and part-time residents.”

Why is there a need to change the city’s current policy on short-term rentals?

There is no need to change the city’s policy on short-term transient rentals. The claim that Ocean Shores does not allow short-term rentals is not true. They are permitted in well-defined commercial zones and there is no lack of opportunity to build new houses there. The Planning Commission’s proposal is not a policy change; it is a major change to City zoning, allowing the gradual expansion of transient rentals into all residential zones using a back-door re-zoning practice called a zoning overlay.

The task given to the Planning Commission was not to create a new revenue stream. We had an apparent problem with hundreds of illegal overnight rental houses in residential areas, with owners not paying lodging taxes and fees. If we were to make overnight rentals legal in Ocean Shores, how would we implement that change? The result was a 2-1 vote to expand transient rentals into some residential areas.

Researching the “evidence” of hundreds of illegal rentals listed on the AirBnB online booking service showed 124 of 132 listings mapped in areas where overnight rentals are currently legal. Even if the original premise were true, these owners aren’t likely to jump at the chance to start paying fees and taxes if overnight rentals are legalized. Will owners outside the new legal zone stop renting?

Houses that now sit vacant will supposedly be occupied more, so crime will “absolutely” decrease and retail sales will increase. What is the occupancy rate and monthly pattern for our current stock of overnight rental units? Will average occupancy rates or rental prices decrease as more rental units are offered?

The real evidence we should be concerned with is the number of recent news stories about many cities attempting to restrict AirBnB-type rentals because of their negative effects, such as inadequate housing units for residential renters and increased code enforcement costs. Some cities are having a difficult time trying to rescind existing laws that allow it. Once builders start developing properties for transient rentals, it is hard to change the rules.

This change is expected to encourage growth and increase property values, but housing starts are already at record highs and prices are rapidly increasing without offering the option of transient rental income, so why take the risk?

Why did the Commission propose a limited area?

The Commission discussed using a trial area as a first step before proposing a city-wide change. This was not a compromise from “don’t do it.” That was never considered an option in their process. The compromise zone is a step down from Mr. Daniel’s original proposal that all areas east of Point Brown Ave. are residential and all areas west of Point Brown Ave. are vacation homes.

Who stands to benefit from the proposal and who might be those most affected?

With an unproven and unpredictable revenue stream, real estate brokers stand to benefit the most from this proposal. It will promote the development or sales of properties for the exclusive purpose of, or promise of, transient rental income. Some investors will be enticed to buy or build houses for short-term rentals only to find that they have no renters most of the year. It is apparently a positive that some people will build or buy expensive houses they cannot afford. These could lead to more abandoned or foreclosed properties.

The losers in this game are our full time residents. The promise of increased property values means higher property taxes. The trial area is described as more desirable for tourists because the houses are within sight of or walking distance to the beach. The fact that most residents in this “zone” chose to live there for precisely those reasons, and specifically chose to live away from the commercial tourist areas of town, is apparently of no consequence.

How would it be licensed, inspected and controlled, at what potential cost?

The Planning Commission recommendation presents a six-page policy of requirements and procedures. The increased cost of administrative and police personnel, potential legal issues, and how to implement and enforce this zoning change are being left up to the City Council and City administration.

What are the problems with this proposal?

Proponents like to characterize all opponents to this change as being concerned only with wild parties or as being anti-tourism or anti-growth. This is not true.

Anyone who lives in Ocean Shores and is anti-tourism is out of touch. However, we are not just a “tourist town.” We are also a growing city with 6000+ residents, and residents, not tourists, are our single most important resource – volunteers. They are the heart and soul of this community. They are the people who care and work toward making this a community of which we can be proud.

Ocean Shores is growing quickly, and while most mourn the loss of undeveloped acreage, they know property taxes are our biggest source of general fund revenue, and residential growth provides a stable source of that revenue. However, lodging taxes are required to be reinvested in tourism, not to aid our City in providing “proper public services.”

What kind of growth will this encourage? Expensive upscale dream vacation homes? More likely an influx of small 2-bedroom spec houses, mostly owned by investors, not homeowners, invested in their own profits, not in our City and community.

Simply put, this proposal infuses the tourism industry into our neighborhoods. With overnight rental houses scattered within our neighborhoods, finding those operating without a license, thus not paying their taxes and fees, will be extremely time-consuming if not impossible. The concept of neighborhood block watches is rendered useless. Having friends and neighbors nearby, belonging and feeling safe, and watching out for others is what a neighborhood is about, and that will be lost.

Nuisance problems are to be quickly resolved by requiring local on-call property managers. Neighbors are to call them first, not the police, to report problems. So will “Nightly Rental” signs be posted on these houses with this contact number? What a lovely change to the appearance of our neighborhoods.

Before a change of this nature and scope is approved by the City Council, it must be put on a ballot once again, even though it has been voted down twice in the past.

There is no proven need for this change at this time. Home starts are at record highs without offering buyers transient rental options. There is no evidence of a significant problem of illegal transient rental houses and we surely do not need to create one.

Diane Beckley, Robert and Ruth Biggs, Lillian Broadbent, David Linn, Marlene Penry, Wilma Spike