GEARHART — I believe that everyone within the city of Gearhart, including the City Council, the city staff and residents, has been surprised by the increase in short-term rentals and the impact on the city.
I also believe the City Council has underestimated the anger and frustration experienced by many residents regarding this issue.
The change came lightning quick. It can be traced to the use of the Internet, professional marketing companies, investors entering the market and unfortunately a change in peoples’ attitudes.
In 1994, the city adopted a comprehensive plan with a clear vision for the future to preserve the low density, semi-rural character. The plan states, “The city will recognize the importance of the city’s neighborhoods and the need to protect them from negative impacts of the transient rental property and to discourage increased levels of traffic and similar disruptions.”
Contrary to the policies in the comprehensive plan, the Planning Commission is considering a proposal to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to allow short-term rentals in neighborhoods now zoned R-1 and R-2. The intent of the zones is to protect residential neighborhoods from commercialization and direct businesses into areas zoned for commercial use. The comprehensive plan outlines seven specific uses for R-1 and R-2 areas and short-term rentals aren’t among them.
So why have short-term rentals been allowed to exist, and in some recent cases take over our residential neighborhoods? That has happened because for many years the city has turned a blind eye to their existence, though they are clearly for commercial gain and not expressly permitted as an outright use.
The proposal the Planning Commission is considering would fly in the face of the intent of the comprehensive plan and its policy to protect the neighborhoods. I am not aware of any analysis or discussion by the Planning Commission regarding the impact such an amendment would have on the property values in such neighborhoods.
Common sense tells me that it would be more difficult to sell your home if it is next to a short-term rental.
Another option the city might consider is a proposal to amend the zoning ordinance to ban short-term rentals in neighborhoods zoned R-1 and R-2.
The Planning Commission is also considering restrictions on short-term rentals should the zoning be changed. These restrictions would include limits on occupancy, minimum stay requirements and a cap on the number of short-term rentals allowed.
The question becomes would the proposed restrictions be enough to stem the tide of renters flooding into Gearhart on a typical summer day? In order to answer that question, one only need look at the number of short-term rentals currently operating in the city.
City staff has been tracking those numbers the best they can, and as of November of last year there appears to be 85. These are not properties owned just by residents of Gearhart. Seven appear to be owned by residents, but others are owned by people living in California, Minnesota, Arkansas, Hawaii and Georgia.
The city also tracks the number of people being advertised to occupy each of those 85 short-term rentals. Based upon those numbers, on any given night, there could be 751 additional people staying in the rentals.
Consider the traffic. The city’s septic system could be a whole other problem.
Some may argue that the rental market never reaches capacity. Even at 90 percent, the numbers are still significant.
Unless the Planning Commission and the City Council can pass very strong restrictions on short-term rentals, which would completely protect the residential character of its neighborhoods, I cannot support amending the zoning ordinance to include short-term rentals in areas now zoned R-1 and R-2.
I believe that we all understand that the issue is very divisive and that there will be very strong opposition to any controls whatsoever. That opposition will come from professional marketing companies, investors who bought property just to rent, homeowners who now see they can make large sums of money by renting property that they have never rented before, and from people who think that since they own a property they can do anything they want with it.
However, the Planning Commission must keep in mind that the primary obligation is to put controls in place that carry out the intent of the Gearhart comprehensive plan.
The Planning Commission is holding a public hearing regarding these matters at 6:00 pm on April 14. I welcome, and strongly encourage, anyone with an opinion, one way or the other, to attend.
Terry Graff serves on the Gearhart Planning Commission.