GEARHART — No matter what happens at Gearhart City Council Wednesday night, residents are likely to challenge it at the polls or in the courts, or both.

“I implore you to sit back, reflect and engage forward thinking and clear vision to avoid a prolonged battle which could drain resources and further divide this community,” Jim Whittemore said in opposing proposed rules regulating short-term rentals. “Working together to resolve this issue will be far more productive than a prolonged civic and possibly legal battle that could have lasting effects on the future of this city.”

The council convened at the firehouse Tuesday night to hear public comment on short-term regulation in Gearhart, a process initiated by the Planning Commission. The zone code amendments address transient properties renting for 30 days or less in Gearhart, requiring property owners to license their properties and observe health, safety and parking regulations, 24-hour contact information and neighbor notification, among other conditions.

Two of the most contentious items debated at length Tuesday night were a proposal to limit one permit per resident and the length of time to apply. Councilors altered the language to allow multiple licenses for an owner of multiple properties; they also requested an extension of the 30-day application period to 60 days, with an additional 180-day period to allow short-term property owners to bring their properties into compliance.

Councilors also revised a Planning Commission proposal to limit the number of guests in a short-term property to 10. If other conditions are met, that number could be higher.

The council discussion came after a heated comment period. “Hats off to everyone involved,” said Matt Brown. He said the rules would make more homes available for long-term rentals and affordable housing. “I think this would be a good example of a responsible way to handle this that other communities in Clatsop County could follow.”

David Russell said short-term rentals represent a “sea change in our community, with a constant turnover of short-term rentals.” He said transient lodging needs to be controlled and regulated “very strongly.”

Opponents to the rules blamed a handful of bad owners for short-term rental abuses.

“I think we are looking for a problem where there is none,” David Remer, who owns several properties in Gearhart, said. “I’m adamant about going after the issue, not the philosophy of ‘strangers’ coming to our town. We already have xenophobia. It’s a national issue. Where are we going with this? Hold me accountable. Make people behave. Fine me, toss me, do whatever you need to do, but give me a chance to do this properly.”

Portland attorney Dean Alterman appeared on behalf of five homeowners. He said the proposed rules have “no factual base,” and cannot be adopted by the city without one.

If the rules are ratified by councilors, voters would have a 30-day period to call for a referendum, City Attorney Peter Watts said, with an additional 90 days to collect petition signatures.

If those signatures are collected, the referendum would be placed on the ballot. “If this were adopted quickly and you got signatures quickly, this could be on the ballot within the November period,” Watts said. “If not it would go to a special election in February.”

“We’re not attempting to eliminate short-term rentals,” Mayor Dianne Widdop said. “What we are attempting to do is let everyone who has a short-term rental keep it and use it within the regulation.”

The hearing on proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance continues tonight at 7 at Gearhart City Hall.

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