Jefferson County is eying short-term rental regulations

Feedback to be presented to Planning Commission

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County officials are gathering public feedback as they consider changing regulations concerning short-term rentals in the coming months.

County staff held three meetings last week in Cape George, Chimacum and Quilcene to get community input on short-term rentals (STRs) and what people would like to see from potential regulations.

More than 50 people attended the three meetings combined, said Brent Butler, chief strategy officer for the county’s Department of Community Development, and they expressed a range of concerns from potential caps on the number of rentals in an area to different regulations for rentals where the owner is currently living in the home or on the property.

Butler said the feedback, which was varied and nuanced, will be presented to the Jefferson County Planning Commission on May 1.

“One resounding area that came through, that if you’re living in the house or on the parcel, you should be able to rent it,” Butler said. “Some people are living there and they need the income. That was one of the areas that came in loud and clear.”

STRs — rentals for 30 days or fewer — are broadly permitted throughout the county in the zoning districts that include Agriculture; Commercial Forest; Rural Forest; Inholding Forest; Rural Residential and Rural Village Center, and they’re also in the Port Ludlow Master Planned Resort’s Resort Complex/Community Facilities Zone.

Butler said the county estimates there to be about 76 permitted STRs in the county and more than 400 unpermitted rentals.

Many residents were not aware of the official definition of an STR nor that a permit was needed to operate one, he said.

One of the discussion items was an “amnesty” for unpermitted STR owners, Butler said, and enforcement tools the county could use to ensure regulations are being followed.

Some communities have placed multi-year restrictions on homes that operate unpermitted STRs, Butler said, while others have relied more on platform-based enforcement.

One suggestion raised at a meeting was requiring a platform such as VRBO or Airbnb to post a permit number with each listing.

The county is currently only looking at what it calls Type I STRs — rentals with a structure like a house or accessory dwelling unit. Short-term rentals without a structure, such as a campsite or RV hookup, already require a conditional use permit and were not part of the discussion.

Most community members felt STRs to be a benefit to the community, Butler said, with many pointing to their benefit to the local tourism economy.

Short-term rentals can affect the local housing market and have been criticized for taking housing from the local workforce.

“While not the primary cause of affordable housing problems, many experts believe that STRs do have a negative impact on affordable housing at the local level, especially in high-tourism communities,” the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington wrote in 2021.

A 2019 Harvard Business Review said researchers found that owner-occupiers, who rent out their spare rooms or even an entire house when they are away for a set period of time, do not impact the long-term rental market.

Many communities have struggled with regulating the rentals, including the City of Port Angeles, which recently placed a cap of 200 STRs within the city limits.

Port Angeles’ regulations have drawn the ire of some residents, including many STR operators, and a community group formed to advocate for the rentals.

Butler said Port Angeles was just one of the communities Jefferson County officials looked at when considering STR regulations. Others included San Juan County, Chelan County and Sedona, Ariz.

Butler said he’s working to organize the public feedback collected last week into specific categories and that a report will be presented to the Planning Commission. Planning commissioners then will decide if regulations should be recommended to the Board of County Commissioners.

Butler said he’s currently only taking input from residents who attended the community meetings, but county residents will be able to give input in the future.

“People would be able to see the comments that came in from the community, provide their comments to the Planning Commission, and then the Planning Commission will deliberate and make a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners,” Butler said.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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