Curry County has had an unknown number of short term rentals (STRs) tucked in its farm and forest lands, as well as in rural residential zones, probably for decades. But nobody knew how many there might be, as the county had no licensing program (except for a basic business license, which a minority of STR owners applied for) or permit requirements at all, and thus had no way of knowing how many STRs there might be. This complete lack of regulation also meant that the county could not determine whether an STR was being run well or was a public health hazard. Also, if complaints came in from any source, the county had no legal framework in which to deal with them.
Starting in June 2021, Curry County began to look into this laissez-faire attitude, and determine if some regulation might improve the situation. With the help of a management company, the county estimated it had some 400 STRs countywide. Generally officials regarded STRs as a benefit to the county, a linchpin to attracting tourism. On the other hand, complaints were many.
The county finally decided to regulate STRs by creating a new program of regulating them as land use, hoping thereby to prevent STRs from being eliminated via voter referendum. The increase in both the number of STRs and the complaints about them, as well as liability fears from STRs with inadequate health and safety requirements, finally drove the county to create an entirely new regulatory program for STR’s. They passed Ordinance 22-04 in September 2022.
The new licensing program for STRs, subject to zoning standards and planning clearance, was not controversial; it was widely recognized that a licensing and oversight program for STRs was necessary. But it was highly controversial that the Planning Department proposed, and the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved, allowing STRs in every rural residential and commercial zone in the county. This included the residential zone for areas inside urban growth boundaries. Rural residents inside the Port Orford UGB had special reason for concern, as allowing STRs in the city’s very large UGB would stress the minimal rural water and septic infrastructure in the area. No means of capping, limiting or restricting STRs was even considered. There were also troubling provisions expanding the availability of Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs), and allowing them to become STRs under some circumstances.
Oregon Coast Alliance and outraged Curry County residents submitted testimony, to no avail. BOC passed the new ordinance unanimously. ORCA and several residents appealed the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).
County officials, still concerned over the hundreds of illegal STRs on farm and forest lands in the county, requested Senator Brock Smith (R-Curry County) to introduce SB 648 in the 2023 Legislature, which would have prohibited any county from allowing existing residential structures from being used as an STR: if an owner wanted to set up a vacation rental, the county could not prevent it. This bill would have legalized all the Curry County STRs – and opened up the farm and forest lands statewide to short term rentals, where they are now disallowed, because those resource lands are protected for farm and forest uses. SB 648 died in committee in April 2023. The bill would have been a policy disaster, turning statewide protection of resource lands on its head for the sake of a county that has refused for many years to regulate illegal rentals inside its own borders.