EditorialsOvernight solutions

Winthrop recently took the right step to address, from one angle at least, the town’s drift toward a community full of nightly rentals and desperately short of housing for residents and workers.

The Town Council adopted a Winthrop Planning Commission recommendation to impose a six-month moratorium on applications to convert existing housing into overnight rentals (those already in the permit process can continue).

The lack of affordable housing for seasonal hospitality and recreational jobs in the town, and throughout the valley, is chronic and potentially crippling, if it’s not there already.

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.” She noted that about two-thirds of the town’s zones allow nightly rentals.

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

The town has already started moving in the right direction. The Town Council recently approved amendments to the zoning code that will loosen existing restrictions on manufactured homes, “accessory dwelling units” on residential lots, and setback requirements in residential zones. The goal is to increase the potential for more-affordable housing, Culp said. Some residential setback requirements that “have been a concern” have now been eased, she said.

Homes as small as 320 square feet will be allowed with a foundation required. Accessory dwelling units will not be permitted to be used as overnight rentals.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between affordability and still having them be real houses that fit in with our neighborhoods,” Culp said

It won’t be an easy balance to achieve. There’s an economic argument to be made in favor of nightly rentals. But a town with mostly transient or short-stay residents isn’t really a community, nor would it be a place where workers could reasonably expect to find housing.

Some residential property owners may want to preserve the flexibility to change the status of their home if their personal situations change.

There may be other shared housing concepts that, as one speaker noted at the most recent council, work in big urban markets and Europe.

Winthrop isn’t either of those. It doesn’t have the carrying capacity to accommodate a wholesale shift to nightly rentals, even as a relatively small percentage of its residential inventory. Its housing stock is limited and growing slowly. There are multi-family housing projects in the works that, if they come to fruition, will somewhat ease the demand for affordable residential housing.

Larger markets are able to absorb the impact of Airbnb and other nightly rental arrangements more easily than small towns like Winthrop. It would be a mistake to try overlaying what works in large places on Winthrop without some adjustments.

The council will soon schedule a public hearing on the moratorium, which was adopted immediately as an emergency action. It will be interesting to see what ideas emerge. Winthrop will need to come up with its own distinct solutions.

Competition in the 12th

Washington state Legislative District 12 will have at least one new state representative after the November general election. Judging by the 12th District candidates’ forum last week in Twisp, and the statements candidates submitted for our coverage of the primary election races (see page B1), the district’s residents will have some tough choices to make from among worthy candidates in the competition for Position 1 and Position 2. Four candidates are vying for the Position 1 seat being vacated by Cary Condotta. In the Position 2 race, two challengers are taking on incumbent Rep. Mike Steele (R-Chelan).

Usually, in relatively crowded races — and these days, three is indeed a crowd in any election — it seems like there’s always one outlier with a micro-agenda they are pushing with hyperbolic rhetoric. The District 12 candidates appear to be reasoned, articulate, intelligent people who may differ in basic ideology but all seem attuned to the district’s most-important issues.

District 12 covers a huge territory with diverse communities including populous (by central Washington standards) Wenatchee and remote Mazama. It’s not easy to develop cohesive priorities that will satisfy every constituent. We encourage you to take a good look at all the candidates and reach an informed decision about who’s best to take on that challenge.

— Don Nelson