County tables STR zone rules

UPDATE: An April 21 article about a hearing on short-term rental rules misstated testimony by Jennifer Euwer. She addressed county Goal One, public involvement, not the residency requirement.

Amid a zoning code update, short-term rental rules are taking center stage — but the matter likely won’t be settled until summer.

The Hood River County Board of Commissioners held a hearing Monday regarding the county’s upcoming legislative amendments to its overarching land use ordinance. Part of the plan involves STR regulations, which have drawn the most heated public input.

After fielding testimony April 16 from 13 speakers — most favoring more stringent residency requirements for STR owners — the board decided to break up its deliberations into several pieces. To meet Columbia River Gorge Commission mandates, commissioners moved toward accepting most changes in the zoning update in early May, but decided to partition off the STR matter and continue it in June.

Hood River County Community Development Director John Roberts said during the meeting the update came about due to the Gorge Commission request, but it also lends a chance for clarity and technical changes.

“If that requirement wasn’t handed down by the Scenic Area, we would not have undertaken this,” Roberts explained. “But since we did, we also used the opportunity to incorporate required legislative updates, recent legislation passed at the state level … and make additional technical changes in order to clarify or improve (the) administration of various land use provisions.”

Hood River County implements land use zoning rules on the Gorge Commission’s behalf within all portions of the unincorporated county, including Scenic Area land. The county must maintain zoning regulations that comply with the Gorge Commission’s Management Plan, which was recently updated.

In late 2016, the county adopted an ordinance creating a cap on STRs and since then has met frequent legal challenges from appellants who challenged short-term rental applications, including the Hood River Valley Residents Committee. HRVRC has maintained the rules don’t follow land use law and don’t do enough to protect resource zones like farms from the spread of part-time rental homes.

Roberts said half a dozen STRs have been appealed. Thirteen applications have been approved.

The county planning commission held hearings in January and February about the upcoming code amendments. During that process, most comments focused on rental rules.

The commission voted 4-2 to send the board of commissioners a recommendation for more deliberate requirements for STR owners, such as proving residency with documentation like a driver’s license, voter registration or tax form.

Roberts said the commission’s recommendation was a “more robust, or more tailored definition in term of defining what a resident was.”

Legal unknowns remain, however, at the state level about defining residency, he noted.

Most speakers urged the board of commissioners to include a requirement for STR owners to be residents of the homes they rent out.

HRVRC Executive Director Heather Staten said, “There’s evidence that Hood River is shifting to be a resort community and it’s happening very fast.”

She said the community is among Oregon’s least affordable, and when the county commissioned an EcoNorthwest study in 2016 there were 71 STRs in the county. “Today, based on the county’s records and online sites like Airbnb, there are over 140 STRs.”

Two planning commissioners, John Kelter Gehrig and Jennifer Euwer, addressed the board as citizens.

Gehrig said, “While it will certainly not make everyone happy, it is my belief that our recommendation found a way to move forward on STRs that balances Oregon’s delicate land use rules with a way to protect our year-round residents. These are residents who happen to be your voters.”

The board of commissioners expressed varying opinions.

Commissioner Rich McBride said, “I just feel like the biggest issue we’ve had with this ordinance is the residency issue, that single thing.

“I feel like if we could get beyond that and accept the planning commission’s decision on it, we will be able to move forward … we’ll be able to get more buy in.”

Commissioner Karen Joplin hoped that there could be a freeze on the STR approval process until state rules become clearer, given local budget issues.

“I don’t think that Hood River being the second smallest land sized county in the state should be paving the way or redefining terms that have not been done elsewhere. We just don’t have the capacity at this point to do that,” Joplin said.

Commissioners Bob Benton, Les Perkins and Ron Rivers expressed that they weren’t ready to move forward yet with a significant change in direction.

The board moved to continue the legislative amendments adoption process to their May 7 meeting, and set the STR matter for June, after the county’s budget adoption.

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