Jefferson enacts 1-year moratorium on STRs

County wants to consider possible regulations for rentals

PORT TOWNSEND — The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners approved a one-year moratorium on land use applications for short-term rentals in order to evaluate and potentially change existing regulations.

County data suggests there are more than 400 unpermitted short-term rentals (STRs) in unincorporated Jefferson County and commissioners said Monday they’re concerned about potential life-safety violations and impacts to neighbors.

“We have heard from the public for a long time about their concerns about the impacts of STRs,” Board Chair Kate Dean said. “We have an interest in wrapping our arms around this issue.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the moratorium Monday afternoon following an executive session with county staff and attorneys. Dean said she is not legally allowed to speak on topics discussed during executive sessions.

However, she said concerns from the public include the availability of housing, particularly for the workforce, noise complaints and overburdened septic systems.

The county conducted a series of public meetings last month to discuss STRs and potential regulations, and that information will be presented to commissioners in a meeting on May 1. County staff learned in public meetings many residents, including STR operators, were unaware of regulations, including the need for a permit.

A handful of permit applications have been received, and those will be processed by the county under the current regulations, but any additional land use permits will not be accepted.

Dean said existing STRs, even unpermitted ones, can continue to operate as normal, at least until new regulations are passed.

“Enforcement of that has been a very low priority,” Dean said of unpermitted STRs. “Once the moratorium is over, we hope that existing STRs come into compliance.”

Once new regulations are passed, the county will likely step up its enforcement of STR regulations, Dean said. Unpermitted STRs are currently considered a low priority unless there is a life-safety or other issue that requires action. Public nuisance complaints to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will be managed in the same way as before the moratorium.

The moratorium ordinance requires the Department of Community Development to lead a public process and draft language for a new ordinance with possible revisions to the county code. Public participation will be available at Jefferson County Planning Commission and commissioners’ meetings.

Communities across the country have struggled with STR regulations with some areas banning them outright and others trying to strike a balance. Last month, the Port Angeles City Council voted to limit the number of STRs citywide to 200, to become effective July 1.

Dean said a limit like Port Angeles’ is one of the policies the county will be considering.

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

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