Photo by Laurelle Walsh

Photo by Laurelle Walsh

By Laurelle Walsh

The Winthrop Town Council approved a request to allow nightly rentals in the Mixed Use I (MU-I) district at its meeting last Wednesday (Aug. 7).

The Winthrop Planning Commission initially received the request from Winthrop North Village developer Jim Pigott, and held a public hearing for a zoning amendment at its Aug. 6 meeting before sending its recommendation to the council.

Winthrop North Village is the only MU-I district in town, a zone created for the 55-acre residential development when it was started in 2006. MU-I already allowed for certain commercial uses, including bed-and-breakfast establishments.

All five council members briefly debated the merits and potential pitfalls of the change, focusing most of their attention on how the town’s Westernization requirements would apply to North Village residences if they were licensed as overnight rentals.

After fetching the municipal code book from Town Hall, Winthrop Clerk/Treasurer Michelle Gaines informed the council that MU-I has the same Westernization requirements as the B-III commercial district, requiring compliance with the town’s Western design criteria and approval by the Westernization Architectural Committee when a business license application is submitted.

The process of applying for overnight rentals may begin at Winthrop North Village as soon as the new ordinance is drafted and approved, Gaines said.

During public comments, developer Pigott explained that when North Village was begun in 2006, it was assumed that most buyers would be full-time residents, “so we didn’t check the nightly rental box” under allowable uses.

Since then it has become clear that the development “is more tilted toward second home owners,” some of whom have said they would like the opportunity to rent out their residences at least part of the time, Pigott said.

Now that overnight rentals are permitted, Pigott said he plans to poll the 21-member property owners association to determine “how short is short-term,” referring to the minimum length of stay – anywhere from one night to a couple of weeks, he thought. “It may or may not turn out to be nightly depending on what they decide,” he said.

Winthrop North Village is located on Uplands Road, past the U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station off West Chewuch Road. It may also be accessed on foot via the Sa Teekh Wa pedestrian bridge across the Chewuch River. Forty-nine homesites are planned, with 20 lots sold and six homes already built.

In related news, council members received a report of “generally pretty good news” from the town’s building official, Dave Sandoz. At the year’s halfway mark, Sandoz reported that construction permit revenues “just exceed the budget” at this point.

Sharing a series of charts and graphs showing building trends since 2006, Sandoz showed a spike in new residential and overnight structures in 2007, with precipitous declines in both categories between 2008 and 2010 and a steady rise in new overnight rental construction since 2010.

“This year 26 new [nightly rental] pillows will be going online,” Sandoz said, adding that “pillows that get rented get used more than those in second homes,” with those visitors in turn consuming more of the other goods and services provided by local merchants.