Moratorium on conversion requests expires at end of year
Winthrop is moving ahead as quickly as possible to address the issue of homes in the town being converted to overnight rentals — a trend that is seen as undermining rental housing stock that might otherwise be available for local workers.
At its meeting last week, the Town Council held a public hearing on a 6-month moratorium on approving applications for new nightly rentals. The moratorium was adopted by the council in early July as an emergency action, at the recommendation of the Winthrop Planning Commission.
In a memo to the council last month, 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.”
There was little public testimony at last week’s hearing, which was required even though the council had already taken action.
Council members said they are determined to meet the tight 6-month deadline to limit uncertainty about how the town will proceed with future applications for overnight rental conversions. Applications for conversions to overnight rentals that were submitted before the moratorium was imposed will continue to be processed.
In public testimony, Winthrop Mountain Sports co-owner Rita Kenny said the moratorium time-out will give the town an opportunity to figure out how “to just say no” to overnight rental conversions. As a business owner, she said, it’s difficult enough already to find employees who are able to live in town.
“If we continue to allow more [conversions], we’re working against all our efforts to create affordable housing,” she said.
Former council member and mayor Rick Northcott pointed out that when the existing zoning was adopted, it included contemplation about nightly rental conversions. “Now, when people are activating their choice [to convert]” the town is taking action. “It was already in place,” he said of the zoning that allows conversions. “Now, people are choosing that direction.”
Culp said that the moratorium’s intent “is less about going back on previous decisions, and more on getting handle on conversions in the future.” There will be more opportunities for comment and discussion, she said, including a public workshop on the issue. “We recognize people were planning [conversions], so we’re sticking to a strict timeline … we hope to get a durably lasting solution” that balances local housing needs with serving a tourism-based economy, she said.
During council discussion, council member Bill McAdow asked about the possibility of incentives to remain a monthly rental as opposed to an overnight rental. Converting would probably produce more revenue for a property owner, he said.
Culp said incentives are on the table for discussion, along with a variety of other possible strategies. A challenge would be to find resources to support incentives, she said.
Council member Joseph O’Driscoll noted that other tourism-dependent communities such as Leavenworth are dealing with the same issue. “This is new territory for everybody, not just us,” he said. “We need to handle this aggressively and fast.”
In other business at last week’s meeting:
• Northcott, who was recently elected president of the Winthrop Auditorium Association board, was at the meeting for a scheduled discussion of the latest town proposal for a new operating agreement for the Winthrop Barn, which is administered by the association. Mayor Sally Ranzau apologized that the item was removed from the agenda because she wasn’t able to get revised copies of the proposal ready for the council meeting.
“I’d really like to get this taken care of,” Northcott said. He said the association board will review the proposal, with a self-imposed deadline of responding by Aug. 31.
A 25-year agreement between the town and the association expired in May 2017. The association approached the town with a proposed five-year agreement in January of this year, and discussions have been going back-and-forth since. The current town proposal is for a one-year agreement.
• The council approved the appointment of Kyrie Jardin, co-owner of Central Reservations in Winthrop, to the Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB), giving the board three members. The WDRB needs a minimum of four members to constitute a quorum so it can transact official business. Ranzau said the town is still seeking members.
Recent resignations had reduced the WDRB to one member.
In the absence of a functioning WDRB, the Winthrop Planning Commission has temporarily taken over the board’s responsibilities.
• The council learned that, so far, their are three applicants to fill the position vacated by the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce marketing director, Kristen Smith. Marketing for the town is handled by the chamber, which will have responsibility for hiring the new marketing director. The town’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, which provides funding for the chamber’s marketing activities, will interview the candidates on Aug. 16.
• Ranzau said she is working with Marshal Dan Tindall on more efficient ways to handle the pedestrian crowds at the four-way stop. “We want to control people from going across the street whenever they want to,” the mayor said. “The real issue is pedestrians versus traffic.”
Flaggers are not an option, Ranzau said, and there is no consideration of a traffic light.
When the town had no or few police officers, Ranzau said, it was impractical to have police personnel overseeing pedestrian traffic at the four-way. Now that the marshal’s office is at full force (Tindall and two deputies), more resources may be available she said. Ken Bajema — who earlier was a deputy marshal and acting marshal, and who resigned from the Winthrop force in 2015 — has re-joined the marshal’s office as a deputy.
• The council approved an updated schedule of fees for planning permits, licenses, reviews and exemptions. The schedule had not been updated since 2009.