By Marcy Stamper

Okanogan County is considering requiring anyone who wants to operate a nightly rental to get approval from the Planning and Building departments before that individual can get a Public Health permit.

The proposed changes were discussed by the county’s environmental health director and planning and building officials at the county commissioners’ meeting on Feb. 16.

In the past, people have been able to request a health permit and inspection — for compliance with regulations on water, trash, lighting and linens — even if the nightly rental is in an area where it is prohibited by county zoning, according to Dave Hilton, the county’s environmental health director. That also meant that an applicant could pay the inspection and permit fee where a nightly rental is not allowed, he said.

The commissioners supported requiring the advance approval, said Hilton.

The change would be incorporated into new regulations for what are called overnight transient accommodations (OTAs), which include nightly rentals and B&Bs. Public Health is in the process of updating its OTA requirements to reflect current state rules.

The Public Health approval that has been in use for years states that the permit holder is responsible for conforming with other regulations, but health officials don’t have the authority to get involved in requirements for planning or building, said Hilton.

The county is also in the process of updating its zoning code, so there may be changes to where different types of tourist accommodations can be located. The definitions of these accommodations may also change. (See related story about zoning on page A3.)

At present, B&Bs are permitted everywhere in the county except in commercial and industrial zones. Nightly rentals are currently allowed only in specially zoned planned developments in the Methow Review District, which runs from Gold Creek to Mazama. They are not permitted in the rest of the county.

Under proposed changes to the county’s zoning code, B&Bs would be permitted countywide, and would be allowed in commercial and industrial zones with a conditional-use permit. Nightly rentals would be permitted everywhere, but would require a conditional-use permit in the Methow Review District.

B&Bs are currently defined as an owner-occupied single-family residence with no more than two bedrooms rented to tourists. The draft zoning code defines them the same way, but does not limit the number of bedrooms that can be rented out.

Nightly rentals are guest houses, cabins or part-time residential homes that are rented to tourists. The owners do not live there while they are rented out.

Public Health inspects OTAs annually. The initial permit and inspection cost $355 and the annual renewal is $215.

The Board of Health will review a draft of the OTA regulations at its March 8 meeting. If the new draft is approved, it will be circulated for public comment and the county commissioners would consider it for adoption in April, said Hilton.