Short-term rental options under review

By Jon Michael Karpilow
Posted 4/3/24


The question of whether new policies around short term rentals need to be adopted by the county is on the May 1 agenda of the Jefferson County Planning Commission. Those decisions could …

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Short-term rental options under review



The question of whether new policies around short term rentals need to be adopted by the county is on the May 1 agenda of the Jefferson County Planning Commission. Those decisions could have far-reaching implications for residents. 

The meeting follows presentations by Department of Community Development (DCD) staff, and citizen feedback, at three public meetings March 12 through 14. 

Roughly 40 citizens attended the March 12 hearing at the fire house on Cape George Road. Brent Butler, the county’s chief strategy officer, presented some of the key issues being studied as the county moves forward in considering new housing policies. Jefferson County ranks second in the state of Washington’s Housing Affordability Index, with the property values on San Juan Island being the only county with more costly properties, making the issue particularly pressing. 

Butler began the meeting by bringing the audience up to speed on the breadth of short-term rentals. These include non-structure short-term camping rentals (e.g. HipCamp, Glamping), as well as rentals that provide more permanent structures (e.g. Airbnb, FlipKey, Vrbo and HomeAway). He discussed contributions STRs make to local economies, as well as the impact STRs have on the housing market. Local residents, including workers needed by businesses, have experienced increasing difficulty in finding housing.     

Butler went on to describe some of the policies that other communities had adopted. For example, San Juan Island takes into consideration local geography to determine the cap on the number of STRs. By contrast, the city of Port Angeles has no location-based restrictions, but limits the number of STRs to two hundred units, or two percent of units in the city, whichever is higher.

He also discussed the challenging issue of enforcement given limited public resources. One idea is for the county to consider what officials refer to as “authorizing a third party” to enforce Jefferson County codes. In this case that means partnering with companies like Airbnb Inc. — which gets a commission from each booking on its website —  to require any STR it lists to have a license with Jefferson County. Airbnb reported $9.9 billion in annual revenue in 2023.

Participants at the meeting shared concerns regarding the effects of short-term rentals on community cohesiveness, and the availability and cost of housing for local workers. 

Paul Bezilla, a former resident of Sedona, Arizona who now lives in Cape George, said he appreciated that the county was being proactive about STRs and issued a strong word of caution with the greater community. He described the explosion of STRs in 2016 in his neighborhood in Sedona, a number that increased with the pandemic. According to Bezilla, nearly 72% of the residences in his  neighborhood were converted to STRs, with many being owned by corporate entities and individuals living in different cities.

“Airbnb negotiated with the community to put a cap on the number of STRs but the Arizona Board of Realtors put pressure on the state and the deal was blocked,” said Bezilla. 

Shannon Boone, Sedona’s housing manager, said STRs currently represent 17% of total residences. She acknowledged that Bezilla’s statement could be accurate given that neighborhoods run by home owner associations limit STRs, thereby pushing them into neighborhoods that do not have HOA protections.

Boone also confirmed the impact of STRs on the availability of housing for local workers. “In some instances, the owner sells a home into the STR market and the local renter is displaced and can’t afford anything else in the city or even the surrounding Verde Valley.”

The major difference between Sedona and Port Townsend are the laws that govern STRs in each of the states. In Arizona, the state has limited the regulations of STRs in cities and towns. Currently, Washington allows resort towns and destination cities to institute geographic boundaries, caps, and taxes on STRs.

Josh Peters, the director of the DCD, said that input from the community meetings will be summarized at the May 1 meeting of the Planning Commission. DCD will issue a press release prior to the meeting with what staff has determined thus far, and possible next steps in the process. Comments from the public will be heard at the meeting, which will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Tri-Area Community Center in Port Hadlock. 

Following the meeting, staff and the Planning Commission will provide recommendations on possible policy options to the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners.