Referendum could help settle county dispute over vacation rentals

FEBRUARY 1st — For residents of Cove Beach, an affluent enclave on the southern tip of Clatsop County, vacation rentals have been a source of struggle for years.

Complaints about the impact on quality of life in the neighborhood, where vacation rentals make up about a third of the housing stock, led to months of hearings and talks before the county decided in the summer of 2021 to place a moratorium on new permits.

At the time, the county board of commissioners agreed that a pause was the best approach while the county considered ways to revise regulations in unincorporated areas.

Last year, after adopting new rules about permits and occupancy, the commissioners tackled a fundamental problem.

While the province has been regulating vacation rentals since 2018, usage has not been expressly added to the development code. This means that vacation rentals in unincorporated areas are not officially recognized.

To address the problem, the commissioners approved an ordinance in June that recognizes vacation rentals of up to 30 days as direct use in 16 districts across the province.

But the new law did not remain in force for long.

Cove Beach residents and others, who organized under the name North Coast Neighbors United, gathered enough signatures to pass the ordinance to the electorate in May.

If the referendum is successful, the decree will not come into force, and more than 100 holiday rentals outside Arch Cape, which are governed by a separate rule, will gradually disappear as permits expire.

If the referendum fails, the commissioners can pass the same ordinance they did the previous June and vacation rentals across the unincorporated portions of the county will be officially recognized.

Vacation rentals have caused tensions in the North Coast, creating pressure points as the region tries to balance economic incentives for tourism with residents’ interests in living. Cities have taken steps to restrict vacation rentals to preserve quality of life and prevent more housing from being converted to visitors.

The county-wide controversy, which has been going on for several years, involves a small portion of vacation rentals on the coast. The most prevalent votes are from residents of neighborhoods like Cove Beach and Surf Pines, a gated community near Gearhart.

As of November, there were 177 rental permits in unincorporated areas. Of these, 110 are outside Arch Cape and will be included in the referendum.

In the May election, all voters in the county will get a say.

As the vote approaches, North Coast Neighbors United faces opposition from Everyone For The North Oregon Coast, which consists of people who work in the vacation rental industry.

“I don’t think we’re saying, ‘We don’t want this neighborhood thing,’” said Jason Stegner, a Cove Beach resident who is part of North Coast Neighbors United. “I think we are saying, ‘What’s the best thing for our county?’”

“We know that housing is an issue. We know that livability and employability is an issue. We’re going to create, if we continue down this path, a place where nobody can live with an Oregon income. That’s bad. It’s bad. Bad thing. For us. We as Oregonians want to make this a better place.”

But people involved with the Everyone For The North Oregon Coast program have questioned the sincerity of North Coast Neighbors United, arguing that the real motive is to keep neighborhoods exclusive and off-limits to tourists.

“They are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” said Mary Goeder-Moore, owner of WeHerdCats RV & Vacation Rentals and leader of Everyone For The North Oregon Coast. “And the thing is, the locals in our community are ripe for choice because everything they’re playing in their heads is the same recording they hear all the time.”

Guidermore said her group is not just about fighting the referendum. “I saw it as an opportunity for us to have a place to collaborate and have a standard for how we do this industry,” she said. “Too bad all this had to happen for our group to get up and take notice.”

“We should have at least a group really.”

Everyone for the North Oregon Coast is made up of people who work in the vacation rental industry, Joyder-Moore said.

The group’s president, Brian Olson, is the owner of Beachcomber Vacation Homes and the president of Northwest Vacation Rental Professionals. Last year, Olson won the South County Business Leader Award for Clatsop Economic Development Resources.

Joyder-Moore said she and Olsson formed the group last year after realizing that United’s North Coast neighbors were well funded and organised, with a website and social media presence.

“It made me nervous,” she said. “And that’s when I started thinking, We should at least have a group.”

Joyder-Moore said most vacation rental companies have shown their willingness to come to the negotiating table for reasonable regulations. Still can’t believe the problem has reached this point.

Gwydir-Moore argues that vacation rentals help the area’s economy, providing economical options for families visiting the coast and giving people who want to live on the coast viable jobs.

While her primary residence was in Portland, Guider-Moore said she and her husband grew up in Oregon and have the goal of retiring on the coast.

She said her family bought a trailer before they could afford a run-down beach house in Seaside. She said they decided to start renting out the trailer to visitors to help fix up the house. Between the money they were making from vacation rentals and the money made driving for Uber on weekends, she said they had managed to start renting out the seaside home to tourists.

From there, Gwydir-Moore said they expanded their RV rental business and eventually bought a home in Surf Pines, which they also use as a vacation rental.

She said that people in the industry work hard and hire workers who live on the coast.

However, unlike other local companies, she said vacation rental companies are often a stigma.

“bypassing the government”

Stegner said North Coast Neighbors United is made up of residents from the southern part of the county to Astoria and that together they are funding the referendum campaign.

Cove Beach resident Charles Dice and Claire Hassler Lewis, CEO of Oliveno Life, are listed as co-directors of the group, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

Jef Green, president of C&E Systems, a Portland-based campaign management firm that often works with progressive causes, is listed as treasurer.

North Coast Neighbors United has hired C&E Systems to assist the PAC, Stegner said.

Stegner points to the 2019 County Housing Study as a reference.

The study found that while there is technically adequate housing stock, much of the stock is being consumed by vacation rentals and second home owners, particularly in beach communities in the southern part of the county.

The study recommended discouraging non-residential uses of housing. “This includes housing used only for short-term rentals and investment income,” the study advised.

The study also said, “Investors seeking properties for short-term rental are likely to overbid local residents’ housing prices and would also make it attractive to convert traditional year-round residents’ rentals into short-term vacation rentals.”

However, a report prepared by county staff last year found no relationship between recent growth in the vacation rental industry and rising home prices.

“We don’t know why our county commissioners seem to care more about potential out-of-state revenue and interests than they do for their own citizens,” Stegner said. “To me, there is no question that all of these things have a huge impact on the living in our county. And that’s where our alliance began. We want to make a better place for all of us to live.”

North Coast Neighbors United has a simple argument, Stegner said: “Those who came before us thought about it,” he said. “They’ve created really strong zoning laws. And this group of commissioners decided to throw that out the window and say, ‘We think we know what’s best for you.'”

“I have a problem with that. And I think every citizen of Clatsop County should have a problem with what I think is government overreach.”

Stegner, owner of a Kaiser-based construction company, Cove Belt, said he and his wife, Beth Radic, were part of a group of neighbors who started talking after the county adopted its initial law in 2018 regulating vacation rentals.

“We feel like they’re constantly holding back trying to justify a decision that was made poorly in 2018,” he said, adding that he believes there was poor public participation that led to this decision.