City advances short-term rental plan

By Allison Arthur of the Leader
Posted 5/3/16

Concerns about a lack of affordable housing permeated a discussion by the Port Townsend City Council Monday over sending a proposed new ordinance on short-term rentals to the city planning …

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City advances short-term rental plan

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Concerns about a lack of affordable housing permeated a discussion by the Port Townsend City Council Monday over sending a proposed new ordinance on short-term rentals to the city planning commission.

Ultimately, City Council voted 5-1 to task the planning commission with looking at adopting new regulations dealing with short-term rentals of non-owner-occupied properties. The planning commission is set to take up the topic at its May 26 meeting.

Councilor David Faber cast the lone dissenting vote Monday night. Councilor Michelle Sandoval was not present.

Faber said the draft ordinance presented by City Manager David Timmons – and available online at ptleader.com with this story – was not what he thought had been discussed at a community development and land use committee. Councilor Amy Howard agreed that the tone of the draft document, which provides for a three-year pilot program to be established allowing for non-owner occupied short-term rentals, was not what she recalled being discussed either.

“The tone is drastically different than what I thought was happening as well,” Howard said.

“I thought we were going to look at ways to make the code stronger and enforce the regulations,” Faber said, later adding that a three-year pilot program to allow for and regulate the rentals might have a more serious impact on affordable housing.

“I'm almost at a loss for words on how hot this is making me,” Faber said, adding that he did agree that simplifying the code and putting information on short-term rentals in one place in the code made sense but that a pilot program did not.

Deputy Mayor Catharine Robinson acknowledged that the issues of affordable housing and short-term rentals do intersect and it is hard to “pull it apart,” but she said the issue of non-owner occupied short-term rentals is a relatively new topic.

“It's a tricky question but I think we've opened it up and I think we need to follow through. We do need to get clearer on the code we have,” Robinson said.

Councilor Bob Gray noted that the issue of accessory dwelling units, which also surfaced during the discussion and public hearing, has been addressed and the point of the new task to the Planning Commission is one of clarifying what is and is not legal with non-owner occupied short-term rentals.

Timmons earlier explained that City Council cannot unilaterally act to amend the city's land-use plan and that it had to refer the matter to the planning commission – or not. But City Council, on its own, could not make amendments.

BACK TO COUNCIL

“This is the tasking resolution that would forward the proposal to the planning commission for discussion and then back to the council for final action,” Timmons had said at the onset of the meeting.

Timmons also weighed in on the affordable housing issue as well as the issue of properties being rented out on Airbnb that are not licensed as for transient accommodations.

“In many areas Airbnbs don't put up the address. We're fortunate here that we can identify from the picture where the property is. Thank you, people,” Timmons said. He noted that some cities are requiring Airbnbs to put their business license number on all advertising to verify that the business has a license.

Many businesses, he said, are evading city and/or state taxes by not collecting either lodging or business-and-occupation taxes.

Timmons said there are a number of issues the planning commission won't be able to address, but the one they could address is whether to allow non-owner occupied short-term rentals on a three-year pilot program.

SECOND HOMES

Timmons also said that there seems to be agreement that there is a problem with affordable housing and the lack of rentals and that is a subject the council is to take up separately.

“There are two things that have happened. It's not just vacation rentals, it's second homes,” Timmons said. He said there are six homes in his own neighborhood that are not being rented and there is never anyone living in them.

“The rise of the second home market here has had a more drastic effect,” Timmons said.

But Timmons said that the questions before the planning commission are whether the city should allow non-owner occupied properties to get into the short-term rental market – or not.

He noted that cities across the country are facing the same questions and that in one community in Colorado, there is a rule that allows no more than one such rental business per block so that they are not concentrated in one area.

Timmons also said that a number of property owners have switched from using ADUs for long-term rentals to use for family members because they don't want to be burdened with long-term rental issues.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

Four members of the public spoke on the issue of rentals. Three voiced concerns about affordable housing as it relates to transient accommodations. One voiced a concern about waiting for almost a decade for rules and permission to use a small studio as a vacation rental.

Jon Langdon, who said he lives on Cass Street, said he came to the community in 2001, left in 2007 and had returned. While here earlier, he said he worked on Habitat for Humanity homes in Chimacum, served on the board of Jumping Mouse and helped design and build the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) he lives in now.

Langdon said he was driven out of the San Francisco Bay Area because his rent rose 45 percent and that was a direct result of “this whole Airbnb thing.” He said his current landlord in Port Townsend has told him if there is an opportunity to convert the ADU he's in as a short-term transient rental he'd be out of that dwelling as well.

“I think if you allow this I'll be driven out of this town,” he told the council.

Amy Johnson, 32, volunteer coordinator for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, was also emotional about the issue of affordable housing.

“If I don't find a place to live in 18 days I'll be homeless. I never once in my life thought I would be saying those words,” she said. Since being told 42 days ago that she needs to move, she said she's been looking for accommodations “with fervor.”

“Port Townsend is in a serious rental crisis. I'm not alone,” she said. “Many of my friends are living on couches, boats, in their cars …. these are people with full-time employment and they can't find housing,” she said, urging the council to take up the affordable housing issue soon.

Ellie Taylor, a therapist at Jefferson Mental Health, said she is a proud newcomer here and she's had what she called “intense exposure to the local housing crisis.”

While Taylor said she also knows of people renting out rooms to make ends meet so they can stay in the community, she said allowing non-owner occupied homeowners to do the same would be allowing competition to actual residents.

Bob Middleburg, who owns property on Jackson Street, said he has a studio that he's been trying to turn into a vacation rental since 2006.

“It's not an ADU. We've tried a long-term rental,” he said, adding that because it doesn't have a full kitchen it's not ideal for a long-term rental. He said he had been denied every time he's tried to get a permit and he is hoping the council changes the rules.

“Hopefully, this is the beginning of a resolution on this issue,” Councilor Gray said after the public comments.

Gray made a motion to approve sending the draft ordinance to the planning commission, but he also added an “or not” to the idea of a three-year pilot program that Faber and Howard had voiced concerns about.

Mayor Deborah Stinson said that in hindsight, the issue probably should have gone back to the planning commission sooner.

“There are multiple issues out there. We need to hear from everybody,” Stinson said. The city is urging people to post comments via the online portal SpeakUp Port Townsend, speakuppt.us.

“We're asking them to take a complete look at this. I don't want to tie their hands,” Stinson said of giving the planning commission an opportunity to weigh in on the issues, hold a public hearing, and send a recommendation back to the full City Council for action. No deadline was given for that to happen.

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