Professor Richard Birke Willamette University – Dispute Mediator
Lincoln City City Councilors received a long awaited update on how the city’s vacation rental dwelling (VRD) dilemma might be resolved. For years many Lincoln City residents have complained long and loudly that a number of vacation rental dwellings were poorly run and were very disruptive to surrounding residents; garbage on the ground, cars parked on lawns and narrow road shoulders, landscaping not kept up and loud parties late into the night.
In frustration the council hired Professor Richard Birke, Director for Dispute Resolution at Willamette University who, along with some of his students, did a community-wide assessment of the problems with VRD’s and involved a broad spectrum of the city; permanent residents, VRD owners, VRD management services and business owners.
In a general overview of what participants and a special working group arrived at for solutions, Birke said a lot of it was based on common sense, but common sense tempered with easily understandable rules and strict enforcement of those rules. Birke said no code enforcement or police officer should go lax on enforcement. Birke claimed that it is the “slap on the wrist” instead of effective enforcement that makes complaining neighbors angry.
Birke said the VRD task force agreed that most VRD’s should be close to the beach, but not dominate the beach. He said the group wanted VRD’s to get along with their neighbors, especially senior citizens and other retired families who want to enjoy living in Lincoln City without a lot of loud parties going on. The want VRD owners to subscribe to trash pick up, have enough trash bins, take care of their landscaping and keep their buildings looking neat and tidy.
Birke added that neighbors who have problems with VRD’s need a single number to call to get either the police or a code enforcement officer to take care of a complaint. Since VRD’s are issued a permit with the name of the VRD owner or a local property management firm, their phone numbers should be available to the police department and the code enforcement officers so they can pick up the phone and get immediate corrective action. Birke said if a pattern of willful neglect builds up, a VRD’s owner should have his or her license suspended, or in the extreme, revoked. As for property management firms who act as agents for VRD owners, the group said the property management industry around town should be enlisted to “police their own.” At least it ought to be tried initially.
Birke said the group endorsed the city having what’s called a manual of Best Management Practices for VRD operations and management and that the city should encourage the use of such a manual for both veteran as well as new VRD owners and/or property management firms.
If a VRD owner is not cooperating in solving a problem with his or her property, Birke said the study group favors heavy fines for violations. First offense $5,000. Second offense $10,000, Third offense $25,000. Birke said the heavy fines must be high enough so that wealthy out-of-town VRD owners can’t just write the fine off as a cost of doing business. “It’s got to hurt, or it won’t work,” he said.
Birke said the group drew up a map of Lincoln City showing where VRD’s should be allowed and where they shouldn’t be allowed. He said the closer to the beach you get, the likely you are to see VRD’s allowed. But at the same time, it depends on what part of town you’re in and the character of a particular neighborhood. The maps clearly shows where VRD’s are welcome and where they are not welcome. Sort of like “yes” and “no” areas. He said in “no” areas where VRD’s already exist, when the owner ceases to use the house as a VRD, the VRD designation dies. Or if the owner of the VRD passes away, the VRD designation ends either immediately or is extended for one year if the property is booked that far ahead with customers. Birke said family VRD’s that are passed from parents to grown children only prolong the stress on the neighbors and others who find VRD’s troublesome in that they don’t blend in well with their surroundings.
As for VRD policies for the soon-to-be-annexed Roads End area, Birke said dealing with the situation there is a little tricky due to the controversial nature of the annexation. “But suffice it to say,” he said, “they want things left pretty much as they are when it comes to VRD’s.”
At the end of his nearly two hour report, Birke made it clear that VRD’s can be a valuable economic asset to the community. But they have to be owned and operated by those who respect their neighborhoods and run their VRD’s like good neighbors. He re-emphasized that rules should be clear, enforceable and when fines are levied they have to hurt. “Consistency is the key,” he said. “Nothing else will work in the long run.”
Mayor Dick Anderson and the council thanked Birke for the hard work he and his students performed to help develop solutions for the town’s VRD issues. Anderson said the next step will be for city staff to develop a draft city ordinance for regulating VRD’s and send it to the city planning commission for review and public hearings. When the planning commission adopts a version of the ordinance that they think is worthy of adoption, that version will be forward to the city council for their review, public hearings and final action. But all admitted that whatever is adopted, the ordinance is likely to be modified over the years as Lincoln City gets more and more proficient at regulating VRD’s.
To see the full VRD Study and all documents click here.
Realtor Steve Salisbury giving the city council a piece of his mind; some of it “R” rated
Despite rather strong protests from several townspeople, the Newport City Council tentatively approved a new city law that allows Vacation Dwelling Residences (VRD’s) to spring up just about anywhere in town; even in well-established single-family residential areas. Community Development Director Derrick Tokos said the town’s outdated VRD ordinance was largely ineffective at regulating such uses and is sorely in need of an upgrade. He said the new ordinance before the council was carefully evaluated and refined by a special VRD Citizens Task Force and by the Newport Planning Commission.
But a number of residents, including a homeowner and a real estate agent argued strongly against allowing VRD’s, especially in single family zones because, they said, VRD’s are disruptive, problematic and difficult to control. Real estate agent Steve Salisbury said there is no greater example of the disastrous effects of homes being rented out to vacationers than in Lincoln City which is in the throes of a revolt against VRD’s. A homeowner said despite protests and complaints to Newport city authorities, a VRD in his neighborhood continued to be noisy, overbooked and boisterous with cars parked all over the area, garbage and trash strewn about, and even showed a picture of rowdy VRD renters, one standing on the street with a shotgun in his hands. He said what is obviously lacking is proper enforcement of rules and regulations aimed at making VRD’s good neighbors. He said some VRD’s are very good neighbors but too many are run by out of town owners who are only in it for the money and don’t care about the neighborhood.
However, Community Development Director Derrick Tokos said there are already VRD’s throughout Newport and that the new rules would make enforcement more effective. He said under those rules, VRD owners must have someone in charge of the property accessible 24/7 and that complaints must be dealt with immediately and effectively. Tokos said the council could adopt a graduated penalty schedule: First complaint, a warning. Second complaint, a suspension of the license to operate. Third complaint, revocation of the license which shuts the VRD down.
When asked why the city seems so supportive of more VRD’s around Newport, the council responded that although the city would receive more lodging room taxes from an increased number of VRD’s, that’s not the point. Tokos added that Newport is a tourist dependent town and that to cap or retract permission for VRD’s could cause legal problems. He cited several statewide measures that could put the city in a position closely resembling that of a “financial taking” of properties by revoking their VRD status.
Real estate agent Steve Salisbury said he still couldn’t understand why the council would even entertain allowing such a chronically disruptive use to spread further into traditional high quality-of-life neighborhoods. He said “Newport is special. It’s why its property values are again rising while those in other parts of the county are still falling.” When Tokos reminded the council that the distinguishing characteristic of single family neighborhoods is primarily ‘density,’ Salisbury strongly disagreed, saying it’s far more than that and threatened to fight the council every way he can if they pass the new rules. With that he stormed out of the council chambers.
The council certainly heard the opposition and began discussing ways to possibly further tightening regulations on VRD’s, especially in single family neighborhoods. Mayor McConnell raised the specter of making such VRD’s come under a stricter “conditional use permit” procedure that would require neighbors being notified that a VRD was being proposed on their street and to make their feelings known about it. The city would then be in a position to educate the neighbors about the city’s tough new VRD codes and of their strict enforcement.
With that the council approved the new VRD ordinance but with instructions to Tokos and the city planning commission, to take a hard look at making VRD’s in well established neighborhoods even more tightly controlled under conditional use permit provisions. They said that the planning commission should take the lead and then bring it back to the council. The council seemed committed to having some kind of a new VRD ordinance take effect July first.
One of the longest running debates in Lincoln City has been what to do, if anything, about the huge number of Vacation Rental Dwellings (VRD’s) in the city and how to soften their effects on the neighborhoods they operate in. The argument on one side is that they provide a “home-away-from-home” vacation spot for families who need more room that what is offered in a typical hotel or motel setting. The other side comes from VRD neighbors who complain that VRD’s are frequently rented by rabble rowzers who throw noisy all night parties and who scatter garbage and litter around the neighborhood, some even parking on neighboring lawns. Add to the mix that the city anticipates annexing the entire Roads End area to the north with it’s myriad of VRD’s and there is a great likelihood that the debate will only grow louder.
The Lincoln City City Council Monday night moved ahead with plans to hire a consultant with knowledge and insight into the Oregon Coast’s VRD dilemma, which has been addressed by as many plans as there are zip codes. Several VRD associations have paraded before the council over the past month or two, all imploring the council to “not pick on” VRD’s because of “a few bad apples.” Three representatives of various VRD associations appeared before the council Monday night exhorting the councilors to hire a candidate that gives reasonable weight to the opinions of VRD owners who have invested heavily in the economy of Lincoln City and who have a very large stake in the outcome of any regulatory changes that might be envisioned. Some even went so far as to suggest that each side in the debate be given adequate representation to maintain balance in the regulatory review process. However, City Manager David Hawker and Mayor Dick Anderson chimed in that the consultant’s job is not to referee warring factions but rather to listen to all sides and then recommend to the city council what regulatory changes may be warranted.
The council authorized Hawker to issue a request for proposals from anyone or any agency that might want to tackle the issue of VRD’s in a city that has a lot of them; perhaps more per square foot than any other city on the coast and again, about to get more with Roads End coming into the city. Mayor Dick Anderson says whatever changes are eventually adopted, it’ll take the better part of a year to enter them into the city code.