County decides on STR direction

The Hood River County Board of Commissioners decided upon a direction to take short term rental (STR) regulations after its Aug. 20 public hearing, and county staff will present either a draft of updated regulations or a timeframe at the commission’s Oct. 15 meeting.

After public testimony and some deliberation, the commission agreed to pursue a “mix and match type of solution” suggested by Commissioner Les Perkins:

  1. Accept the planning commission’s recommended residency requirement, requiring applicants to prove that a dwelling is their primary residence with two forms of ID: An Oregon driver’s license or ID card with their address on it, and either a copy of current Hood River County voter registration or the most current copy of tax form OR-40.
  2. Eliminate the existing cap, which limited STRs in the county to 25 on EFU land and 75 elsewhere. The commission agreed that the more robust residency requirement negates the need for a cap.
  3. Grandfather existing STRs into a new regulation system and require new applicants to follow new application requirements and regulations.
  4. Prohibit all STRs on EFU land because Bed and Breakfasts are already allowed. B and Bs on EFU land have a very similar review process to STRs, the only differences being that B and Bs require year-round residency and a provided breakfast for guests.

While the agenda initially didn’t include room for public testimony, Commission Chair Ron Rivers opened the floor to anyone who has never testified to the commission on this issue.

At this point, Heather Staten, the executive director of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC), called a point of order to deliver a petition with 480 signatures to the commissioners.

The HRVRC has spoken out against the county’s STR policies since they were enacted two years ago, primarily to express disagreement with the 30-day residency requirement.

Ultimately, four local STR owners came forward to testify:

Jennifer Parrott, who said she was a long-time resident of Hood River before she had to move up to Seattle for work, turned her home in Hood River into a STR so that she would still have the freedom to come back for Christmases and summers when she had time. “We definitely participate in the community when we’re down here,” she said, adding that “it’s not some sort of (financial) scheme.”

Jeff Greenwood, another STR owner, said that he and his wife rent out their home a few times a year when they leave town. “It’s been a great way to earn an income,” he said.

Tom Hacker said that he and his wife, also STR owners, live next door to another STR and testified that he likes having them there. “I like the fact that it’s a great place and I like talking to the visitors,” he said, adding that visitors have been quiet and haven’t caused any issues. “Like everyone else, I don’t want to be overrun; but I think we need to take care of people who live here,” he said.

Carrie White operates an STR with her husband on their two-acre plot that’s too small to be used as farmland. “I’d just like to plead with you to allow short term rentals in EFU land, even if it requires additional review,” she said. “We’re stuck in EFU. It’s very important to us in retirement to have that income.”

There was some disagreement among commissioners on what rules to follow when grandfathering, and whether or not to prohibit STRs on EFU land, so the commission directed staff to come up with a draft document of new regulations for the commission to consider at a later meeting.

“(We’re) not going to create a perfect system that’ll encompass every scenario, that’s just impossible, so we’re going to have to do the best we can,” said Principal Planner Eric Walker.

Several commissioners expressed frustration that the original ordinance, first enacted December 2016, wasn’t given the chance to work.

District 1 Commissioner Karen Joplin said that she supported the county’s original regulations and direction and still supports keeping STR regulations flexible. “We were trying to provide an avenue for community members to remain community members,” she said, adding that the intent behind the controversial 30-day residency requirement was to eliminate invisible investors. “(There was) never an intent to open it up to commercial use,” she said.

District 3 Commissioner Bob Benton said that he agreed with Joplin, adding, “I think we did come up with a quality ordinance and I think it’s really sad that it didn’t get a chance to get started.”

Rivers agreed that the commission had a good plan when they originally started, but said, “I could see right off that there were a lot of questions about residency and what we should require, and we talked about that in length … I’m not giving into outside pressure, I think the residency thing needs to be reformatted …”

Though they supported their initial ordinance, the commission agreed that, given staff time and funds that have gone into dealing with appeals on the issue, they needed to make a change. “We need to make a decision on this and move on. It’s hobbling our ability to get stuff done,” said District 2 Commissioner Rich McBride.

The commission will pick up the discussion at its Oct. 15 meeting.

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