County wraps up short term rental hearings

The same night City Council strove to put to bed its long-simmering short term rental debate, Hood River County Board of Commissioners held a final — and somewhat parallel — hearing on rules for rentals outside of city limits.

Hood River County’s ordinance sketches out rules for STRs on all unincorporated, non-federal properties in the county outside of urban growth boundaries and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The rentals have stoked controversy in recent years, with those in favor citing their largely tourism-driven economic boon, while detractors argue STRs siphon away the available housing stock in Hood River County and negatively impact neighbors due to nuisances.

After a night of mixed testimony from the public on Monday, the County Board of Commissioners asked planning staff to bring back specifics on the costs of implementing STR regulations at their next meeting Monday, Aug. 29.


Diane Zipper

The board took no action this week, but their discussion favored a less restrictive approach to STRs than Planning Commission’s recommendations.

That appointed panel recommended barring the rentals from high value farm and forest zones and limiting them in other zones with a cap at 60 — less than the existing amount of confirmed STRs countywide.

The Board of Commissioners instead considered a more lenient cap of 100 rentals, or 2 percent of total housing stock.

Zoning issues, however, stymied the board.

Commissioners differed on how farm and forest resource zones should play into the equation. Instead of banning STRs outright on those zones, some commissioners felt a permitting process would address neighborhood concerns with the rentals and give the county a set of controls.

“I don’t want to see them on EFU at all,” County Chair Ron Rivers said.

Commissioner Bob Benton leaned toward a conditional permitting process on all resource zones.

The board also seemed to agree on permitting STRs through a two-year permit, cutting in half the formerly proposed four-year expiration point. They suggested the standards be “ramped up” to a more expensive $500 licensing fee per parcel.

While not as turbulent as the city’s deliberations on rental rules (see related A1 story), the county’s rulemaking process also demanded multiple meetings and a hearing before the Planning Commission before it was bumped up to the Board of Commissioners.

Monday’s hearing brought in an audience of roughly 20. Out of eight speakers, sentiments toward STRs varied widely.

Mike McCarthy, a Parkdale orchardist, spoke out against STRs on high value farm land. He questioned the county’s ability to enforce rules addressing nuisances caused by guests.

“All of the burden falls on the neighbors of short term rentals, wedding venues and other non-farm uses in the farm zone …. the county does not enforce the rules,” McCarthy said.

Diane Zipper, who lives in Portland and has rented out a home at Old Dalles Drive for years, urged the board to develop more flexible options for existing STR owners, such as allowing compliant rentals on certain resource zones.

“Please consider our situation as a small, non-farmable parcel within EFU (exclusive farm use), and the fact that it was never clear to us on the front end that using our home as an STR would ever become an issue,” Zipper said. “And please help us to find a pathway in keeping our property in place (to live there) full-time.”

Commissioners considered the prevalence of STRs around the county a smaller issue than the high density the city faces.

The city’s STR ratio is at least triple that of the rest of the county, according to a 2015 study by EcoNorthwest. About 2-4 percent of housing in unincorporated Hood River County is made up of STRs or second homes, compared to 10-12 percent within the city.

Commissioners noted the comparatively small rate of STRs in the county, but considered the issue worthy of “putting in controls” due to their inclining growth.

“I feel like the horse is well out of the barn (in the city) and we can see where it’s going,” Commissioner Les Perkins said. “My view is we need to get ahead of this, we need to make sure that we have effective controls in place to make sure it doesn’t get to where the city got to.”

However, on resource zones, and standards for compliance and permitting, commissioners didn’t reach a consensus.

The board asked Planning Director John Roberts to come back next week with specific numbers regarding the cost of permitting and enforcement of the STR framework.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to make a decision regarding the STR ordinance next Monday. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at County Business Administration Building, 601 State St. The board will then open a hearing concerning marijuana business rules.

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