Gearhart homeowners are concerned that the City Council might restrict the number of short-term vacation rentals in town.

They expressed that concern at a council work session Oct. 21 while the council continued discussion about developing a zoning ordinance governing vacation rentals. The city currently has no restrictions.

The City Council will meet in another work session tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 18.

Those who have invested in property in Gearhart and can keep it only if they rent it out said they were alarmed at the thought of losing their ability to offer short-term rentals.

But City Councilor Al Carder told audience members that nothing has been decided, even though the city wants to preserve the community’s character.

“One thing I want to make perfectly clear is there have been no decisions as to what that should be,” he said.

Gearhart is using Cannon Beach’s short-term rental ordinance as a starting point, although that might be a main reason for the alarm, said Councilor Sue Lorain. Some people may find it complicated and restrictive, she said.

Cannon Beach allows only 92 “transient” rentals, where houses can be rented every night. Permits for these rentals are limited to five years. Once a permit is relinquished, it is put into a lottery, where the name of a homeowner who has expressed interest in renting her or his property is selected at random. The city also requires off-street parking, garbage service and information about how to contact the homeowner and a local representative, as well as emergency guidelines for tenants. Restrictions also are placed on the number of occupants per home and the frequency with which a person can rent their home.

The councilors, and particularly Mayor Dianne Widdop, have said there is concern from citizens in Gearhart over “renters’ mentality” and how short-term vacation rentals in residential zones negatively affect the atmosphere and livability of those areas.

“Residents have been fairly tired of some of the activity in town” that has gone on in or next to their homes because of a lack of regulations, City Administrator Chad Sweet said.

An apparent increase in the number of private homes being used as short-term vacation rentals, and property management companies are recruiting even more properties, City Councilor Dan Jesse said.

“In my opinion, it’s going downhill fast, and I want to control that,” he added.

The discussion Oct. 21, however, was focused on concern over Gearhart becoming like Cannon Beach.

“I feel like it’s doing surgery to remove a blister. It’s overkill in my mind,” Laurie Whittemore said.

She and her husband rent out their property on Marion Street when they or their family members aren’t using it. They said they are conscientious of their neighbors and careful about who they allow to rent their property. They pay higher mortgage interest and insurance rates because they use their property as a short-term vacation rental.

Whittemore wondered if the city could do more to only restrict those who are causing problems or go directly to the property owners when there are concerns, rather than adopting a restrictive ordinance.

Carder responded that fairness was important. The ordinance, he said, would create consistency, and the lodging tax would put residential short-term vacation rentals on the same playing field as commercial rentals. He reiterated that problems with garbage, the city’s septic system, parking, noise and safety triggered the discussion, and an ordinance would enable the city to monitor those issues fairly.

Audience members said they had no problems addressing those issues. They just don’t want their right to rent their property to be taken away.

“I ask you to consider going light on the regulations,” said David Gallagher, who splits his time between Portland, Kenya and Gearhart. “... Try not to over-regulate right out of the chute.”

Updated information on city meetings is available on the city’s blog at www.cityofgearhart.wordpress.com.

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