Real estate promoters can now set higher prices and win bigger commissions for selling homes in Gearhart and Seaside that can be rented out on a short-term (weekend, more or less) basis. As the new absentee homeowner makes his investment “pay for itself,” he could care less about the peace and safety of the neighborhood now enduring incessant noise and traffic congestion.
This has been something new for Gearhart, where family groups and their friends have usually taken turns occupying vacation houses owned communally by their own relatives. Those groups, identified with a particular family, normally act responsibly and with consideration for the permanent residents in their midst.
Mutual respect between Gearhart’s permanent and seasonal residents is part of the character of the community, and has long been associated with the quality of life we enjoy in Gearhart. The growing number of new absentee rentals has shattered that venerable tradition.
The Gearhart Comprehensive Plan foresaw the problem a generation ago: it clearly states, under “Residential Development Policies,” that “The city will recognize the importance of the city’s residential neighborhoods and the need to protect them from the negative impacts of the transient rental of property, and to discourage increased levels of traffic and similar disruptions.”
Immediately following that policy is a statement of “Commercial Development Policies” to “limit commercial activity,” “prevent the city from becoming a tourist destination,” and limit commercial development to what “supports the needs of the residents of Gearhart,” ending with a declaration that “The city shall not designate additional property for commercial development.”
Can anyone deny that short-term rental is commercial activity? Doesn’t the property owner derive income from that activity? And, if a businessperson can now suddenly make the specious claim that providing a historic setting for weddings is a form of short-term rental, then surely the real short-term rentals must be seen as business activity, and subject to city regulation and limitation.
Unfortunately, the ordinances implementing those Comprehensive Plan policies have not yet been enacted. Better late than never, the city council is now busy with such an ordinance, drafting it with careful comparison to ordinances successfully enacted by other cities.
Three cheers for the Gearhart City Council, and three cheers for Mayor Dianne Widdop for appointing Paulina Cockrum, a seasoned and effective planner, to the City Council to replace the much-missed John Duncan. This was a significant appointment that went unreported in The Daily Astorian. With Ms. Cockrum’s help, the city will soon have the legal means to rescue Gearhart’s ancient tradition.