LINCOLN COUNTY — Representatives of a grassroots group called 15neighborhoods expressed confidence that the “Altering Short Term Rental (STR) Dwelling Licensing in Unincorporated Lincoln County” initiative will not only reach the May ballot, but also that the measure will pass. The group is promoting the petition online at 15neighborhoods.com.
The measure seeks to “prohibit new STR licenses and license transfers upon sale in low density, single-family residential zones (R-1-A, R-1 and R-2) in unincorporated Lincoln County; phase out existing STR licenses in those zones over five years; reduce the maximum occupancy of STRs to two persons per bedroom (excluding children under two years of age); and limit ownership to only one STR within the R-1-A, R01 and R-2 zones.”
Monica Kirk, part of the 15neighborhoods group and a driving force behind the ballot measure, explained, “We want to preserve our residential neighborhoods in unincorporated Lincoln County for long-term rentals and full-time owner residents.”
Pointing out the petition does not seek restriction of STRs in tourist-commercial zones, Kirk explained that bed and breakfast inns are allowed in R-3 and R-4, which is why the petition did not include those zones.
Kirk said the number of STRs in unincorporated areas of the county increased as most cities have already taken action to limit them. She suggested that investors should be building new construction in tourist commercial zones, rather than buying existing homes in residential zones that don’t even allow Bed and Breakfast inns.
Tony Schauermann, of Springfield, has always loved the Oregon coast and intends to retire in the area. He recently purchased a home in Seal Rock.
“I was hoping to make some income to bridge the gap on the mortgage until I was able to retire,” he explained. The home was never intended to be a long-term vacation rental, he explained, but he expected to be able to use it as an STR.
Schauermann acknowledged that he could rent the house long term, but said, “That wasn’t really part of the plan. I’m not looking to be a landlord.” Schauermann intended for local company Sweet Homes Vacation Rentals to manage the property for him. “The idea was to have some vacation time over there for myself and rent it out the rest of the time.”
Indicating that he “was a day away from applying” when the Lincoln County Commissioners stopped issuing licenses for STRs, Schauermann told the News-Times, “We didn’t feel like there was very good public information that there was something coming down the line.” He said of his inability to rent his house short term, “It’s not putting me under, but it will delay my retirement.”
Barb Sulek, also part of 15neighborhoods and the ballot initiative effort, told the News-Times that those living in residential neighborhoods near the ocean have long been aware of the issues caused by the proliferation of STRs, but as they are growing in number, she wants people countywide to be aware of the issues.
“It’s not just cranky people who don’t want a hotel next to them. That’s true,” she acknowledged, “but the bigger issues are so many more.” Among those are emergency response times and emergency preparedness.
“What happens when the tsunami hits, and you have Bella Beach — 40 percent of those properties are short term rentals. What do you do with those people?” Sulek wondered. She cited the traffic and lack of information in the wake of the recent fires as evidence that a plan is necessary. The group questions the capacity of the infrastructure in place.
“These were little tiny residential communities with a road in, a lot of them, a road in and if you squish way over you can go out at the same time,” Sulek observed. “They were never designed for the volume of traffic that some of these communities are now experiencing.”
The county has contracted LODGINGRevs to aid with monitoring STRs and hired additional staff to aid enforcement efforts. Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers said the initial LODGINGRevs report showed 65 unlicensed STRs in unincorporated Lincoln County, but that number was reduced to 60 upon further investigation.
His office is prepared to cite violators, Landers said.
Kirk pointed out that nearly all candidates running for local office cited affordable housing as the most pressing issue in the county. “So long as vacation rentals are a commodity that can make a house worth more by virtue of having a (STR rental) license, they will remain out of the financial reach of middle class and workforce people,” she said.
Lincoln County Commissioner Claire Hall, when questioned regarding the existing moratorium and the ballot measure, responded by email. “At this point, I’m leaning toward supporting another extension of the moratorium until after the May election results are in. A week from today, at our Nov. 16 meeting, staff will present a report and requested/suggested options for further refining our regulatory structure, such as going to a two-person per bedroom limit and a potential countywide cap or neighborhood caps,” Hall wrote. “My feeling is we should proceed as if the initiative isn’t law, but to be prepared for the reality that it might be.”
Lauri Hines, a founder of VIA Oregon, a vacation rental property owners group, said, “I think people will be surprised to find out the true economic impact short-term rentals have on our economy, and I don’t believe those opposing STRs have any substitute economic initiatives to make up for all of the loss of tax revenues, local business income and jobs that would result if STR’s were banned.”
Vacasa currently “cares for more than 100” STRs in unincorporated Lincoln County, Patrick Ryan, Vacasa’s director of operations on the Oregon coast, said in an emailed statement. “Vacasa is opposed to a ban on short-term rentals in unincorporated Lincoln County — we are in favor of fair and equitable regulations. We believe there’s a compromise that will preserve our homeowners’ ability to operate their vacation rental and earn income they rely on, while also protecting the interests of full-time residents.
“Vacasa is able and willing to provide 24/7 local support to respond to neighbors’ concerns with noise, trash and other issues that occasionally disturb neighborhoods, and to help homeowners comply with local licensing, permitting and tax rules,” added Ryan. “Vacasa is proud to support tourism and help boost the local economy, not only through the taxes we pay, but also by bringing increased accommodation options and local employment to Lincoln County. The impacts of overreaching restrictions can be damaging to tourism, and subsequently neighborhood businesses, and we want to continue to see Oregon’s coastal communities thrive.”