The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners has been wrestling with short-term rentals (STRs) since the summer of 2021. The southern part of the county, especially Falcon Cove Beach and Arch Cape – areas of spectacular coastal scenery – contains the largest concentration of STRs. The county has for years informally allowed STRs in any zone that allows single-family residential housing. The county’s quiet decision has resulted in a high level of STRs in the residentially-zoned parts of the county that are most popular for visitors. The county’s regulation is solely to regulate STR business licenses and provide a weak enforcement framework; there are no caps on STRs, no procedure for grandfathering or weeding out STRs, unless there are license violations.
This lax approach to STRs led to increasing concerns by local residents, especially in Falcon Cove Beach and surrounding areas. With some legal research, Falcon Cove residents determined that the county’s informal decision to allow STRs in all residential zones was in fact illegal, as STRs are a commercial use of the sort explicitly prohibited in residential zones, including the Coast Residential zone, or are not listed as an allowed use. Cove Beach residents and their attorneys requested a meeting with county officials to discuss the legal liability Clatsop County faces from their decision to allow STRs in all residential zones, and to work on alternatives that would rein in STRs. There was no reply.
However, the county did take note of the increasingly angry and desperate complaints from rural communities inundated with STRs. Eventually, the county put a moratorium in place and began having listening sessions on the subject, in both Falcon Cove and Arch Cape. Falcon Cove residents pointed out that their tiny community currently has about twenty-five full time residents, two hundred part-time residents – and some 20,640 STR transient customers per year. Then BOC started holding work sessions. But all the proposed changes revolved around tightening up enforcement, not capping or otherwise reducing the constantly increasing numbers of STRs.
Suddenly, in late February 2022, the County Planning Director presented to the BOC a proposal for amending the ordinances to explicitly allow STRs in all residentially zoned areas! Clearly the county heard the concerns, and decided to “solve” the problem by welcoming STRs openly and making them legal where they had not been. The proposed ordinance would allow STRs in all zones where single-family dwellings are permitted, including the Coast Residential zone of Falcon Cove Beach — as a so-called Type I permit, which means there would be no public notice and no public hearing. The proposed changes contained no mechanism for capping, limiting, grandfathering or in any way reducing STRs. Rural residents in south Clatsop County, where most STRs are clustered, were stunned. The Board of Commissioners passed the ordinance, 22-05, in June 2022.
Clatsop County is thus hoping to legitimize and magnify the current STR problem countywide. They clearly paid no attention at all to the pleas of Cove Beach residents, especially, who face an STR rate of 30% or more of their neighborhood, and climbing. It is apparent that the County believes STR income is more important by far than protecting neighborhoods and communities. The controversy, thanks to the county’s aggressive support of paving the rural communities with STRs, is mushrooming and expanding. Every other county and community on the coast is grappling with STRs, usually seeking ways to restrict and regulate them. But not Clatsop County.
As a result of the Board of Commissioners’ decision, the residents of affected areas put together a coalition, North Coast Neighbors United (NCNU) to repeal Ordinance 22-05. The referendum will be on the May 2023 ballot. Oregon Coast Alliance has officially endorsed the repeal effort. Unregulated STRs in all the county’s rural residential zones is an affront to livability for thousands of rural residents. If passed, the referendum would take Clatsop County back to the time before the Commissioners made the drastic decision to open all the county’s residential zones to STRs. Then a real conversation, bringing all stakeholders to the table to discuss regulating commercial uses in residential areas, can begin.