Residents press for permit moratorium
The Twisp Town Council is taking a cautious approach to requests that the town impose a moratorium on permitting conversion of existing housing to overnight rentals.
At their meeting last week, council members heard from more than half-a-dozen citizens urging them to put a hold on nightly rental conversions while town officials consider their potential impact on the local housing market. The comments cited loss of housing options for workers, possible negative effects on the character and safety of established neighborhoods, and the potential for taking business away from existing tourism lodging businesses including B&Bs.
The commenters stressed the need for council action now, before nightly rental conversion requests become more common.
While acknowledging that the valley’s housing market, including Twisp, is challenged by both a lack of availability and escalating costs, council members took no action. They agreed to consider the issue at upcoming meetings.
The overnight rental discussion was recently prompted by a conversion application that roused the interest of some town residents. At their March 8 meeting, the council was addressed by West Twisp Avenue residents who expressed concerns about the overnight rental application for a house at the far end of West Twisp Avenue, where that street intersects with Borchard Lane. They asked the town to impose a moratorium on accepting applications for overnight rentals.
That led to the topic being placed on the March 22 council meeting agenda.
Twisp currently has no overt prohibitions of overnight rentals in its municipal code. An overnight rental conversion requires a business license, a land use application and an administrative permit, but no council review. Applicants must meet several requirements included in the town’s code.
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody noted the intensified interest in the overnight rentals issue in the past few weeks and said that is consistent with “the greater context of what’s happening in our valley with regard to housing right now.”
Few active now
In response to questions from the council, Town Planner Kurt Danison said Twisp has issued eight nightly rental permits in the past half-dozen years, scattered around the town, but he knows of only two or three that are actually “active” as nightly lodging options.
Danison said that permits are not issued unless the applicant meets all requirements spelled out in the town’s code. Nightly rentals are allowed in every zone except industrial and at the municipal airport.
Ing-Moody said the current West Twisp Avenue application cannot be halted, even by a moratorium, because it is already in process and will be approved unless it falls short of the town’s requirements for conversion.
The application process does provide for public comment, and the comment period for the current application was extended because of some residents’ complaints that they did not receive adequate notice. Danison said that while comments are taken into account, unless they point to failings in the application it’s likely a permit will be issued.
“It is an allowed use,” Danison said of the town’s overnight rental provision. In the current case, he said, “there was no justification to disallow it” because all the town’s conditions have been met.
Danison added that “I would appreciate more clear guidance” on the overnight rentals issue. “I would welcome a more thorough review,” he said.
As to some residents’ concerns about the process, Danison said that “I understand they [residents] are frustrated because we didn’t say ‘no.’”
Danison pointed out that the overnight rentals discussion takes place within the broader scope of all the town’s planning and zoning policies. “It’s not the only issue we are looking at,” he said. Alterations to portions of the overall policies can’t be done in a vacuum, he suggested. “We’re not supposed to willy-nilly make a change,” Danison said.
That said, the town does have the ability to impose a six-month moratorium if it chooses, Danison said, and extend it beyond that if justified.
Council members did not quickly embrace the idea of a moratorium and questioned whether there is an immediate need to suspend applications, given the relative handful of conversions in recent years.
Council member Hans Smith said it’s “hard to see” that overnight rental conversions are having a notable impact on the Twisp housing market, while acknowledging that could change. Smith said a clear concern is the potential effect on residential neighborhoods.
Smith suggested that the town look to Winthrop’s experience for some guidance on how it might proceed. After imposing a moratorium on nightly rental applications in 2018, the Town of Winthrop in 2019 approved a new set of regulation for overnight rental conversions.
(Winthrop Deputy Clerk Suzanne Levis said this week that the town had not approved any new overnight rental applications in 2021 and that all the 27 permits issued in 2022 are renewals from the previous year, with no additions.)
Twisp Council member Alan Caswell said that while the town is not being overwhelmed with conversion applications, “we need to stay a step ahead of this” and look for solutions that are responsive to community concerns. “What do we do in the meantime?” he posed.
Smith said the town Planning Commission already has a full plate of issues it is dealing with, including a number of updates to town policies, and shifting priorities to overnight housing could disrupt that other work.
Council member Aaron Studen — who lives across the street from the West Twisp Avenue house that is being converted to a nightly rental — said that he doesn’t see conclusive evidence that overnight rentals are an imminent threat to Twisp’s housing market.
Need to address
Ing-Moody said that whatever the threat assessment, overnight rental conversion is a “a hot topic … that is not going away … We need to address it.” If the council doesn’t respond now, she added, “what are you waiting for?”
Danison said that if a moratorium is adopted, the statutory process requires a public hearing within 60 days. He suggested that before taking any action, the council consult with the town attorney.
Ing-Moody and council members agreed with that advice, and the mayor said she would refer the matter to Town Attorney Scott DeTro for his review and recommendations.
Meanwhile a petition is being circulated in the town, asking residents to support a moratorium. According to the petition, “A moratorium would allow town officials time to receive public input, develop options to protect neighborhoods, and support housing availability for residents and the employees who maintain our economy. We wish to avoid the adverse consequences other towns have experienced when there is rapid growth in the tourist industry and loss of local housing. Addressing these issues and solutions before problems become more evident would be a wise choice.”
In other business:
- Absent any workable alternatives for in-person meetings, the council decided it will continue to meet remotely until the new civic building is completed this summer. Neither the town nor any of the possible meeting venues in Twisp has the necessary technical equipment available to simultaneously provide remote access to an in-person meeting, which would be required, Town Clerk Randy Kilmer said. Visit www.townoftwisp.com for information on how to remotely access the council’s meetings.
- The council appointed Nick Crimp to the Twisp Tree Board.