Public hearing set in Lake Oswego for draft rules on short-term rentals
Planning commissioners and City staff worked through a series of code amendments Monday that will set the groundwork for a potential ordinance that would allow short-term rentals to operate legally in Lake Oswego's residential neighborhoods.
The City's Community Development Code has prohibited STRs — meaning rentals lasting fewer than 30 days — in residential zones since long before Airbnb and other platforms came online to connect travelers with private homeowners. But for most of its existence, the ban was only enforced if the City received a complaint.
That led to dozens of Airbnb units operating "under the table" in recent years as the service grew, however, and to a decision by the City Council in 2017 to proactively seek out and warn violators — and fine repeat offenders — rather than simply respond to problems.
At a goal-setting retreat in 2018, some councilors urged their colleagues to reconsider the ban, partly in response to a survey that showed widespread support for services such as Airbnb. Seventy-five percent of respondents to the poll said they had used an STR at one point or another; 91 percent said the use came while they were on vacation. Of those surveyed, 53 percent said they were in favor of allowing STRs in Lake Oswego.
The issue was put back on the agenda, with the council directing the Planning Commission to develop a potential set of rules and regulations over the course of six work sessions to replace the outright ban. This week's meeting was the latest step in that process, which will include a public hearing now scheduled for April 22 and a final recommendation to the council in June.
Based on feedback from the commission earlier this month and using what they described as a "social model," Planning Director Scot Siegel and Senior Code Enforcement Specialist Bill Youngblood prepared a report that recommends classifying STRs as a "home occupation," which allows residents to host visitors in their homes for a fee. Under the City's code, a home occupation is allowed when:
— The use does not alter the residential character of the neighborhood or infringe upon the right of residents in the vicinity to the peaceful enjoyment of the neighborhood;
— A current and valid business license is maintained;
— No employees other than family members who reside at the dwelling are involved in the transaction;
— There is no outside storage of goods or materials other than vegetation; and
— No more than 25 percent of the aggregate floor area on the lot is devoted to nonresidential use; an Accessory Dwelling Unit may be used, provided the provisions of this subsection are met.
The rules would require an STR to meet supplemental standards intended to maintain a neighborhood's character and avoid infringing upon the right of residents to the peaceful enjoyment of their neighborhood, Siegel and Youngblood said. STRs would be classified as "a lawful use conducted in a residential zone in or on the premises of a dwelling unit, said use being secondary to the use of the dwelling for dwelling purposes."
The staff report discussed on Monday also defined STRs as "the offering of one or more bedrooms (and use of common areas) within a single-family detached dwelling for transient residential purposes to paying guests for periods of 30 days or less."
That language would not only set STRs apart from hotels, however; it would also restrict them to "detached" single-family dwellings, and the commissioners voiced their preference for removing that part of the definition. Participants at the public hearing in April will instead be asked to consider whether to allow STRs in multi-family residences, such as townhomes and condos (but not necessarily apartment buildings).
"I think the idea of expanding this allows the public to comment more on that," Commissioner Skip Baker said. "By putting it in front of them, they'll address it."
Other policies likely to spark debate: whether or not an STR must be operated within a primary residence; whether more than one room of a home can be booked to separate guests; how many nights per year an STR can be booked; how many STRs the City should allow; and whether or not the property owner or resident must be on site during the time of the rental.
All of that will be boiled down into code amendments by Siegel and his staff and presented for review ahead of the April 22 public hearing. Those draft policy and code amendments are expected to be posted to the City's website as soon as Friday, March 8; residents who would like their comments considered as part of the process are encouraged to submit written testimony or attend the hearing to give their comments in person.
To view all of the commission's work sessions and staff reports on STRs to date, visit the City's website now at www.ci.oswego.or.us/planning/short-term-rentals.
Enforcement of STR policy has led to huge headaches for a number of cities across the United States — particularly in Portland, where it has been reported that 80 percent of STRs operate illegally and outside of City code. But Siegel says he believes that through the review of policies by the Planning Commission and an open public process with testimony on both sides of the issue, Lake Oswego will be able to create an ordinance that's both easy to follow and easy to enforce.
"We want to make it easy for people who would be operating legally to meet these requirements, to get a business license and have some assurance on their end that what they're doing is legal," Siegel told The Review. "That's the balancing act, and if the City can put in place regulations that are as clear as possible, we can verify that objectively."
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