New short-term rental code takes shape after two years

A high concentration of licensed short-term rental properties in unincorporated Lincoln County are located in the Bayshore area north of Alsea Bay. A sign advertises a vacation rental property on Northwest Oceania Drive in Bayshore, an unincorporated beachfront community north of Waldport. (Photos by Kenneth Lipp)

Public workshop scheduled for April 7

During the March 29 meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, County Counsel Wayne Belmont presented proposed code language to regulate short-term rentals in unincorporated areas of the county.

Commissioners imposed a moratorium on new short-term rental licenses in March 2020, postponing the consideration of regulations they began the previous year in order to focus on response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing another disaster later in the year with historic wildfires, the board extended the moratorium multiple times, most recently until June, and has committed to finalizing the new code without another extension.

In a memorandum accompanying draft amendments to Chapter 4 of the Lincoln County Code, Belmont said staff made four main recommendations for commissioners’ consideration.

Staff recommended limiting occupancy to two people per sleeping area, down from the current three, and allowing an additional two people in the dwelling from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Gatherings like weddings and graduation parties would be prohibited.

They recommended requiring an existing system evaluation report for the 75 percent of short-term rentals in unincorporated areas that have on-site septic systems. This would ensure sewage systems are operating properly, according to the memo, and also establish a ceiling for the number of people that can occupy the property, regardless of the licensed occupancy limit.

A crucial recommendation, Belmont said, was the addition of administrative hearings to determine the validity of complaints, while retaining the current process that starts with owner-neighbor resolution and includes a “three strikes” provision for violations. 

Belmont said the creation of a hearing officer position to consider evidence, determine if a violation occurred and what sanction was appropriate would allow a level of formal adjudication separate from referral to circuit court, with a different standard of evidence. Appeals of those decisions could be made to circuit court.

Sheriff Curtis Landers, whose office investigates complaints, said he thought an administrative hearing process was “exactly the piece that’s been missing.”

Staff recommended commissioners consider four alternatives for caps on the number of licenses — no cap, a countywide cap, a countywide cap plus caps for specific geographic regions and regional caps with no countywide limit. Under each alternative, the memo reads, existing licensees would be grandfathered in until a property is sold or transferred — that is, no licenses would be revoked to meet a cap.

Included with the recommendations was a map showing the number of licensed short-term rentals in seven county regions as of April 21, 2020. Regions 1 through 5 comprise the area west of Highway 101, where the majority of licenses were located. 

Region 1, a 17-mile stretch from south of Depoe Bay to the Tillamook County line, had the highest number of rental operations, 195. Region 4 was the most dense, with 163 licensees in eight miles from the north side of Alsea Bay to Seal Rock, concentrated in the Bayshore area. There were 95 licensed short-term rentals from south of Alsea Bay to Lane County, Region 5; 43 in Region 3 between Seal Rock and Newport; and 26 between Newport and Depoe Bay, Region 2.

All of Lincoln County east of Highway 101 is divided into Regions 6 and 7, north and south of Highway 20, respectively, where there were 91 total licensees.

County commissioners will hold a public workshop via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7, to gather input on the proposed code language. That language, along with Belmont’s memo to commissioners Monday, the regional map and a registration link to offer comment during the workshop can be found online at tinyurl.com/jmzmenre.

One hundred people joined a previous workshop held on Jan. 20 that lasted more than three hours. Belmont said three hours were allotted for the April 7 meeting, and another workshop could be scheduled if more time is needed for all commenters. The county’s public information officer, Casey Miller, said 18 people had registered to comment as of Thursday morning.

Commissioners will discuss staff recommendations and public input during their regular meeting on April 12 and plan to adopt the code amendments in May.

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