Short-term rentals issue on City agenda March 13

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 3/7/17

The City of Port Townsend is set to consider the issue of short-term rentals, vacation rentals and transient accommodations during a workshop meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 13.

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Short-term rentals issue on City agenda March 13

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The City of Port Townsend is set to consider the issue of short-term rentals, vacation rentals and transient accommodations during a workshop meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 13.

A shortage of rentals in Jefferson County and specifically Port Townsend initially prompted the discussion last year.

Lance Bailey, city planning director, said that the Port Townsend City Council last discussed the issue during its Feb. 26 meeting.

“One of the questions raised was whether the city should allow non-owner-occupied short-term rentals, to which the planning commission offered a unanimous ‘no,’” said Bailey, who added that the city is exploring the use of tax revenues, business licenses and zoning requirements to address its admitted difficulties in enforcing its existing short-term-rental laws.

In communicating with other cities, Bailey said, one possible fix they shared was to specify Port Townsend’s requirements for short-term rentals within the business licenses themselves.

“And any advertisements you would do, whether in print or online, you would need to include your business license number,” Bailey said. “It’s a little more strict than relying solely on land-use restrictions, which are more difficult to enforce. This way, we hopefully won’t have to go through the whole sting operation process.”

Bailey acknowledged that the city is still wrestling with some “nuances,” such as the possible distinctions between tourist homes and bed-and-breakfasts. Regardless of the title, he reported that the planning commission is recommending that rentals to one or two people for 29 days or less remain owner occupied, as per current requirements.

“The current code also defines tourist homes as ‘for sleep purposes only,’ which leaves a lot of leeway in interpretation,” Bailey said. “I would have said this means it doesn’t include a full kitchen, but that still becomes hard to define. What if there’s a microwave?”

To eliminate this confusion, the planning commission is likely to recommend that the “sleep purposes” stipulation simply be stricken entirely.

“This is why we need more discussion of this issue,” Bailey said. “City staff need more direction and clarification, which is the purpose of the March 13 workshop.”

Although no decisions are expected to be made at the workshop, which is not set to include a period for public comment, Bailey encouraged the public to attend and hear city officials debate the issue.

“We want our residents informed and engaged, especially because we know that housing is something they care about already,” Bailey said. “We’ll be working with a consultant to reach out to the community through multiple channels, including social media.”

No date has yet been set for the City Council to make a decision on the new rules for short-term rentals.

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