Lincoln City City Councilors Monday night, hoping to put an end to the long-running debate over how to more effectively regulate Vacation Rental Dwellings (VRDs), tentatively approved new VRD rules and set November 10th as the date they’ll give them final approval – unless something totally unforeseen gets in the way.
Once the new VRD ordinances are formally approved, a flurry of lawsuits are expected to be served on the city council alleging denial of property rights, denial of due process and denial of being given equal protection under the law. City Manager David Hawker says he expects those lawsuits to be filed and has budgeted city funds to defend the new rules.
City Attorney Richard Appicello read from a number of Oregon court cases that he claims supports the city’s position that city government has an obligation under the city charter, as well as state land use planning law, to provide a balance of economic growth for it’s residents, while protecting livable neighborhoods. Where that balance point is, of course, is the heart of the debate.
Generally, circuit court judges don’t like to step in and play city council. They review the official record of city council meetings and ascertain whether the council made a reasonable effort to find that balance. Judges generally don’t like to insert their own preferences – that’s why the public elects city councilors. That’s THEIR job. If the voters don’t like a particular balance point, they can either recall the city council and put in a new one, or wait until the next election and see how the voters feel then.
A recent city-sponsored citizen survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed want tighter controls on VRDs. The influx of retirees who have made Lincoln City their final home are especially vocal about tightening the reins on VRDs. A recent economic report showed that spending by retirees is the fastest growing part of the Lincoln County economy.
Under the new regulations, those who own a VRD in a commercial zone can rent as many nights as they want. Every night of the year if they so desire. If an existing VRD is in a residential zone, the owner is granted 180 rental nights a year. If someone wants to build a new VRD in a residential zone, and it’s strictly for vacation rentals, the owner can apply for 30 night rentals a year and get on a fast track for a license. If the owner of a new VRD wants to occasionally rent his or her home, they can rent it as long as it meets the letter of the law – that those rental nights are few in number, reflecting the requirement that “such rentals are incidental and subordinate to the main use of the home.”
The stickier wicket of all this is the creation of a new Vacation Rental Zone. There is no official map showing where these VR zones will be located. But where they pop up on the city’s final zoning map will mean that VRDs in those zones can be rented 365 nights a year.
City officials say it will take some time – maybe months – to figure out where the VR zones will be designated. This uncertainty has left many VRD owners frustrated. But at least everyone will have something in writing that they can come to grips with – and if they’re not happy with how it affects their property in particular, they can sell their home or sue the city.
As a footnote to all this, City Manager David Hawker reminds everyone, that under existing city law, all VRD owners have two choices. If a VRD is in a commercial zone, it can be rented every night of the year. If a VRD is in a residential zone, the owner is allowed to rent it only a handful of nights a year because under state law, such “accessory use” is incidental and subordinate to the main use of a house – which is, by law, a REAL home.
City Councilor Roger Sprague cut to the chase a few meetings back when he said VRDs have been gradually increasing in number over the years to where now, they’re all over town. He said the city wasn’t able to keep track of those rogue VRDs and the situation simply got away from them. Now there’s a hue and cry from residents that something be done about them – their trash, noise, loud parties, parking problems and the constant merry-go-round of different neighbors. Year round residents complain that it diminishes their quality of life by not having a real neighborhood. They also complain it lowers their property values.
City councilors say the city’s ‘state-approved’ land use plan calls for an affordable mix of housing for everyone who lives in Lincoln City. But if trends continue, uncontrolled VRD growth would make complying with that requirement virtually impossible.