Pressure on housing stock prompts action

By Don Nelson

Faced with increasing pressure on residential housing, the Town of Winthrop has imposed an emergency 6-month moratorium on approving applications for new nightly rentals within the town.

The moratorium was imposed last week by the Winthrop Town Council at the request of the town’s Planning Commission.

In a memo to the council, Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said the moratorium would allow more time “to develop more comprehensive regulations to address the conversion of homes into overnight rentals.”

“We see this as an urgent situation due to the rapid loss of rental stock for local housing,” Culp said. “We are already discussing this issue in preparation to propose new zoning regulations to address the situation.”

At last week’s council meeting, Culp noted that “the rate of conversions to overnight rentals is happening at a shocking pace.” She said the moratorium will help the town “try to get a handle on it and rein it in … and protect local housing stock.”

Council member Joseph O’Driscoll supported the emergency action and said that the current housing problem is unlike anything the town has experienced in the past. He noted that local tourism-related businesses are suffering because there isn’t adequate, affordable housing for the workers they need.

Council member Bill Kilby agreed the situation calls for emergency action, citing his own difficulties finding a place to live in town.

Mayor Sally Ranzau said the trend of nightly conversion rentals “is destroying towns all over the West.”

“We need to get a handle on it before it’s too late,” the mayor said. “This will give us time to take a pause.”

Tough market for workers

Culp said that if the council chose to delay action on the proposed emergency ordinance, the town could expect “an onrush of applications” for conversions to nightly rentals. She pointed out that about two-thirds of the town’s zones allow nightly rentals.

The council adopted the emergency ordinance suggested by the Planning Commission, which takes effect immediately. Within 60 days, the council must schedule a public hearing on the moratorium.

The proposed ordinance submitted by the Planning Commission cited the steady decline of owner-occupied housing in the town “due to ongoing conversion of existing housing for overnight or short-term tourist accommodations.”

That trend is making it more difficult for employees of local businesses to find affordable housing in the town, the Planning Commission noted.

“The town’s economic vitality depends on tourism, which requires the availability of both adequate tourist accommodations and adequate housing for residents that work in and support the tourist industry,” the Planning Commission said.

Applications for conversions to overnight rentals that have already been submitted will continue to be processed, Culp said.

At last week’s council meeting, Kathleen Jardin, co-owner of Central Reservations in Winthrop, said she supports the moratorium. “I applaud what you’re doing,” she said.

According to figures provided by the town, since January 2017 six single-family homes have been converted to nightly rentals and one building remodel was converted to a nightly rental. The town now has a total of 31 active nightly rentals.

In other business at last week’s meeting:

• The council approved a zoning variance application by Larry Goldie and Blue Bradley for a home they are building on Lufkin Lane. Goldie said that the town’s error in locating a water main on the property forced the couple to relocate and redesign the house, requiring a variance to allow a porch roof that would violate setback requirements. Neighbors supported the variance.

• Adopted the proposed “Winthrop In Motion” plan for better downtown mobility and an improved streetscape. “Winthrop In Motion” is a “multimodal” planning effort supported by a state grant to come up with ways to make it easier for pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and mobility-impaired people to negotiate downtown Winthrop’s streets and sidewalks. It also includes planning for a more visually appealing “streetscape” and for compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.

The proposals by Alta Planning + Design, the Seattle-based firm hired by the town to develop ideas, were gleaned from a “walking audit” of downtown by volunteer participants, and feedback from a subsequent public workshop. Major challenges identified were the inconsistent and inadequate boardwalk widths, obstacles such as boardwalk posts, varying pedestrian surfaces (board, gravel, pavement, dirt), driveway interruptions, lack of safe crossing areas, and confusing or non-existent directions for getting to various destination points.

The project’s goals are to provide for safe travel for all ages and abilities, whether walking, biking, using transit or in motorized vehicles; to improve “connectivity” between key destinations in town; to improve access to all locations; to make downtown a good experience for residents and visitors, with more “social spaces” for things like outdoor dining; and to support the town’s economic base.

The proposal includes ideas for bike lanes, pedestrian trails, sidewalks, boardwalks, crosswalks, intersections, street rights-of-way, transit stops and shelters, vehicle and bike parking, and other adjustments to facilitate better movement.

Culp noted that the plan is conceptual and doesn’t commit the town to any of the recommendations or ideas. “It does represent a lot of community input,” she said.

• The council approved a proposal that Okanogan County and the Winthrop Marshal’s office swap a couple of vehicles, an arrangement that Marshal Dan Tindall said would benefit both parties. The county will trade a 2016 Ford Explorer SUV for one of the town’s two 2014 Chevrolet Silverado pickups.