Lincoln City voters to consider new vacation rental rules, code enforcement fines and changing the way it fills vacant city council seats.
It appears that Lincoln City voters will be considering a few voter initiatives this May when they mail in their ballots. And at least one of those initiatives is going to be very controversial. It’s the vacation rental issue, again. And VRD backers are going for the gold.
On the ballot is expected to be an initiative to legalize vacation rentals in every single land use zone in the city. If passed, vacation rentals can be established anywhere. Not just in commercial or tourist commercial areas – everywhere. Single family neighborhoods – everywhere. Both sides of 101. But VRD supporters contend there won’t be many east of 101 because vacation renters want to be near the ocean.
Supporters like real estate agent John Skipper told News Lincoln County that Lincoln City City Hall trying to limit vacation rentals to 90 nights a year doesn’t make any sense. He said vacation rentals have become a major growing economic engine in Lincoln City. He said many residents owe their jobs to the industry – maintenance, housekeepers, landscape worker, property managers and more.
However, many permanent year round Lincoln City residents have decried the proliferation of vacation rentals which now number around 500 homes in the city. Some councilors have pointed to vacation rentals being overrun with loud college students, late night parties, booming music, trash not picked up and streets sprawled with illegally parked cars and SUV’s. Neighbors lament the conversion of next door and nearby houses to mini-hotels that don’t belong, they claim, in otherwise quiet and enjoyable neighborhoods. Many have said they’ve lost what they bought in to – a quiet and peaceful all-American neighborhood with people and children they know. But now, they say, their neighborhoods are being ripped apart by total strangers who come and go at all hours of the day and night and every week of the calendar.
VRD supporters, including those in the VRD business and local real estate professionals claim those allegations are way overblown – that VRD problems are not as common as portrayed and that what problems there are can be easily handled by city code enforcement officers. Even police officers. They contend that Lincoln City is blessed by virtue of being within a couple of hours of Portland as well as tolerable driving distances from other major metro areas like Eugene and Seattle – all of which contain countless families needing to escape to the coast and enjoy another part of Oregon – a beautiful part of Oregon. VRD supporters say they come to Lincoln City, spend lots of money in restaurants, the mall and local entertainment venues – including Chinook Winds, which is also a big economic driver for the town.
Supporters also say that homeowners in Lincoln City, experiencing new neighbors in the form of vacation rentals, is also a good deal for them. With the enhanced economic activity in the town, non-VRD homes will rise in value, thereby benefiting those homeowners – although to be fair, it also means their property taxes will rise.
VRD booster John Skipper says the new ordinance that will be on the May ballot will be a near direct copy of a VRD ordinance that regulates vacation rentals in Newport. Newport officials allow VRD’s in all zones but most of them are near the beach. Newport community development officials say they have had very little trouble with them and that they can’t remember the last time a VRD owner lost his/her license for violating VRD regulations.
But there is a marked difference in the number of VRD’s in Lincoln City vs. Newport. Newport currently has 162 VRD’s – Lincoln City already has nearly 500 VRD’s – and new applications are coming in all the time. And with any increase in the prevalence of any particular land use, it’s bound to produce some abrasive experiences for those who live in traditional single family home neighborhoods.
Again VRD boosters contend it’s up to the city’s code enforcement department as well as the police department to slap a lid on any misbehaving VRD clients. At the same time, they say, VRD owners and property management firms who rent them out must also be held responsible for running what is truly a business, like any other business in Lincoln City, meaning they have to be good neighbors.
Over the last few years those who have served, and still serve on the council, have been whipsawed by those who favor VRD’s as well as by those who don’t. Most recently, current city councilors have been contemplating a crackdown on VRD’s that are operating without a business license or VRD permit. They’re contemplating dramatically cutting back on VRD’s for which there is some confusion about how many nights a year that they can be rented out. City Manager Ron Chandler has proposed taking these proposed new regulations out for public comment during various town hall meetings around the city. Chandler remarked at a recent council meeting that the last public vote on VRD regulations last Spring was preceded by a lot of misleading political advertising in the media about VRD’s and the city’s attempt to properly regulate them. So with this latest voter initiative, possibly going on the May ’16 ballot, allowing VRD’s everywhere across the city, it’s getting even more complicated.
The VRD group has two other initiatives on the May ’16 ballot that would, if passed, reduce penalty fees for city code violations – some of them to be cut in half.
Another initiative would change the way the city council replaces councilors who resign their posts before the end of their term. Mr. Skipper said it surrounds the recent appointment of former Mayor John Anderson to the council, fulfilling the unexpired term of former Councilor Jim Davis. Davis’ term would have expired in 2018. Rather than hold, what was called, an expensive special election, the council simply appointed Anderson back on the council. Mr. Skipper said Mr Anderson should not have been appointed, but rather should have been forced to run for election along with anyone else who wanted to replace Davis on the council. Mr. Skipper said the ballot measure will require future city council vacancies to be filled by a special election, except when the unexpired term of a departing councilor has six months or less to run.