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Only a zoning ordinance hearing, final board approval remain ahead of fees for vacation rentals starting July 2021

COURTESY PHOTO: ERIC MUHR ON UNSPLASH - Clackamas County is considering whether to regulate the growing number of Clackamas County residents in unincorporated county areas considering renting out their homes for short-term or vacation rentals.Clackamas County is just a few short steps away from implementing regulations on short-term and vacation rentals in unincorporated areas.

Following a two-year public process, the Board of County Commissioners has just one hearing left on Wednesday, Dec. 9, where they'll take testimony on proposed changes to the county's zoning and development ordinance that would explicitly allow short-term rentals to operate. Currently county code and zoning ordinance don't clearly state whether they permit short-term rentals, which are defined as a dwelling units, or a portion of a dwelling unit, rented for a period of up to 30 consecutive nights.

It's expected that the board will then approve the amendments to county ordinance at their meeting on Dec. 17.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County Senior Planner Martha Fritzie and her colleagues hosted several community forums in 2019 about the county's proposed short-term rental policy.On Nov. 25, the county's elected officials voted 3-2, with Commissioners Paul Savas and Martha Schrader dissenting, to approve proposed county code amendments that create a process for property owners to register their short-term rental with the county and pay a biennial fee of that will be set somewhere between $800-900. It would also create a process for neighbors seeking recourse to address their concerns through county code enforcement. Those regulations and registration process would take effect July 2021.

Property owners will be asked show they meet certain requirements in terms of the maximum number of people allowed to stay at the property at any given time and an adequate amount of off-street parking.

The process began in early 2019 when county commissioners instructed planning staff to look into the implementation of regulations for short-term rentals. This was sparked by marked growth in the number of in the use of online rental sites such as AirBnB and VRBO, as well as concern from community members in unincorporated areas that short-term rentals can cause unwanted neighborhood impacts such as noise complaints, large parties, parking issues and blocking of local right-of-ways. Over the past 18 months, county planning staff have carefully researched policies and regulations implemented in other jurisdictions, hosted internal stakeholder groups and conducted public outreach to receive feedback, and worked with the board to discuss and formulate policy. A series of public hearings scheduled for earlier this spring were pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recently took place during the first and second readings of the proposed county amendments on Nov. 5 and 25.

In that process, the county heard a wide range of opinions on short-term rentals ranging from those who would prefer they not be allowed at all, but suggest they be heavily regulated, to those who believe they should be allowed to operate unencumbered by any regulations.

The county's response — according to Planning Director Martha Fritzie — falls somewhere in between and takes into account more than 100 pages of written testimony and testimony given at more than a half dozen community meetings that took place between May and June 2019.

"This is a controversial topic, and we knew that going into it. We're not the first jurisdiction in Oregon or in the country to grapple with what to do and how to regulate short-term rentals," Fritzie said. "We had a lot of public participation. There was a lot of support for allowing short-term rentals in the county, and particularly in the resort areas of Mount Hood because they've been operating up there for years."

According to Frtizie, her department worked tirelessly to analyze all of the public input they received and come out with a general idea of the direction in which it all pointed. That led county planning to identify that there's an underlying agreement that short-term rentals should be allowed and regulated.

"We certainly take all of those inputs and try to find a solution that is going to work the best for the biggest number of people with the understanding that not everybody's going to be happy all the time," she said. "That's something that we deal with a lot, and sometimes it makes you think about something you hadn't thought about, so I think it's really good for the public to participate and keep the good ideas coming."

Despite receiving approval following last week's second reading of the code amendments, the new proposal for regulating short-term rentals did receive some pushback from county leadership.

Savas and Schrader expressed concerns that the county would not be able to recover costs of implementing a registration process for short-term rentals as well as dedicating staff hours to code enforcement through fees, and that the county's already stretched general fund has little wiggle room to pick up the tab.

"I am very concerned about the high cost of enforcement and clarity of where that money is going to go," Schrader told her colleagues last week. "I'm worried at the cost recovery being, quite frankly, unattainable."

Savas agreed, stating that he doesn't believe the process has truly identified where revenue created by registration fees for short-term rentals would end up.

"My concern is that even if you collect the full fee, it's not going to provide the mechanisms necessary," he said.

According to Fritzie, the process for registration would be administered out of the county's finance department, which will ultimately be responsible for setting up the program. She said that planning staff expects finance to build and implement a fairly comprehensive page added to the county's website with information for property owners, application materials and the ability to submit documents showing the property meets the various requirements, as well as electronic payments.

Fritzie said she believes that most property owners already operating short-term rentals or seeking to establish a dwelling as one shouldn't have much difficulty meeting the requirements laid out within the amendments to the county code. However, she did note one of the biggest impacts of the new regulations would be on those with properties within Metro's urban-growth boundary. According to Fritzie, properties within the urban-growth boundary can only operate a short-term rental if it's their primary residence or an additional dwelling unit attached to their property.


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