Aug 112017

Ken Gagne

The Yachats City Council this week affirmed their earlier declaration that the city is enforcing a limit on the number of vacation rentals within the city limits. Currently there are 125 vacation rental licensed dwellings in this community of 680 residents. Yachats city councilors voted 3 to 2 this week to adopt a new ordinance enforcing the cap, final language for which is being drafted and readied for adoption in early September.

The majority decided that Yachats is a distinct, unique community apart from being strictly a tourist magnet – not to diminish the value of tourism which is, admittedly, the corner stone of the town’s economy. Councilors said they want to continue a balance between tourism and the lifestyles of year-round residents.

Townspeople also reminded the council and the community, and especially the VRD industry, that under state law – the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Act – every Oregon city and county, from Portland to Harney, Medford to Astoria, must, by law, provide a fair and equitable mix of housing for low to high income families. Those supporting the Yachats City Council’s decision on a VRD cap point out that there are very few, if any, so-called affordable housing units left in Yachats, so the last thing Yachats needs are more VRDs.

On the flip side, the VRD industry is saying that VRDs are major contributors to the local economy and that if local governments want more affordable housing the council is the entity to ensure such housing is built. They say as more vacation rentals are added to the tax rolls, along with tourism room taxes that they generate, city coffers will swell, enabling city leaders to partner with developers and affordable housing non-profits to construct housing aimed at the most rent-burdened segment of the town.

Of course the arguments can go on all night like: VRDs bring in hordes of outsiders who are determined to have a good time. Such crowds put more pressure on city services like water, sewer, roads, parks, police and fire protection which erodes Yachats’ ambiance as a charming village on the Oregon Coast while running up costs for providing city services. And there is the undeniable trend that tourism industry workers are becoming harder and harder to come by because they can’t find an affordable place to live and they’re increasingly not willing to drive 50 to 100 miles round trip to work while making only $11/hour (if they’re lucky).

A third rail to the discussion is trying to find a solution to the growing popularity of VRDs on one hand and the desire to enjoy living in a distinctly unique and socially warm community on the other.

Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “Buy real estate because they’re not making any more of it.” Many cities in Europe learned long ago, that without land, you can’t build out, because there’s no longer any “out” out there. So they decided to build UP. In Europe, more and more families live in “mixed use” mid-rise apartments or condo complexes.

These mid-rise complexes are generally four stories high with residents paying, as part of their rent or mortgage, the cost of the land at a 75% discount because four families, living vertically, together pay jointly for the land over which they live. And land is a very expensive part of the housing challenge.

But residents of such developments may not have to pay even 25% of the land cost if they agree to live in a five story complex with commercial businesses or professional offices on the ground floor. Again, just like Europe learned hundreds of years ago. The relatively high rental rates for ground floor businesses automatically soften or down-write rental or mortgage rates for those who live above them.

Another aspect – these mid-rise structures can be built with indoor atriums or other socially pleasing places to catch a bite to eat, run in to friends, or schedule meetings with work-related professionals or business associates or accommodate public gatherings or meetings. The possibilities are endless.

Although some people might shy away from such a living arrangement, America’s up-and-coming Millennials are very clear they don’t want to live in McMansions with expansive yards to maintain just so they can have a convenient place to play three games of badmitten a year in the side yard.

But the game killer for mid-rise housing in Yachats is that locals, especially the city council, don’t want any mid-or-high rise buildings blocking their iconic view of the Pacific Ocean.

So if the council sticks to its decision about capping VRDs at 135 dwelling units, it would suggest that new VRDs would begin popping up in areas just outside the city limits of Yachats. As a matter of fact, anyone wanting to create a VRD outside any city limits in Lincoln County can get a VRD license fairly easily at the county courthouse in Newport. But be forewarned there are parking requirements involved just like in the cities. And don’t forget, there is also the issue of providing sewer and water services. If you’re not just down the street from a major sewer or water plant you’re quickly talking about drilling a well and putting in a septic tank. But with the rental rates that VRDs fetch, those costs should not be a show stopper.

Little tiny houses and accessory dwelling units (adding small dwellings on the ground next to already built homes) may relieve some of the strain in the current situation, but most demographers agree it’s not a long-range solution to the housing crisis. And certainly not in Yachats.

The Yachats City Council is expected to formally adopt the cap on VRD licenses at their first meeting in September.

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