6-month halt may include exemptions
The Twisp Town Council has moved closer to adopting a six-moratorium on permitting conversions of existing residential housing to overnight rentals — but possibly with some exceptions.
At its April 12 meeting, the council in a 3-1 vote authorized a draft ordinance that would suspend applications for overnight rental conversions for at least six months — with a possible six-month extension beyond that — excluding existing B&Bs, owner-occupied dwellings and buildings in commercial zones.
The proposed ordinance, which will be drawn up by staff and the town’s legal counsel, will be considered at a future council meeting.
Somewhat ironically, the council member who expressed the least support for a moratorium — Aaron Studen — introduced the motion to draw up a proposed ordinance, with the stipulated exemptions. The council member who expressed the strongest support for a moratorium — Mark Easton — opposed Studen’s motion because it included the potential exemptions, which Easton said were not necessary.
The council was reacting in large part to a public outpouring of support for a moratorium on conversions, demonstrated over the past couple of council meetings by a steady stream of oral and written comments, and by a petition circulated in the community that drew nearly 70 signatures.
Most of the comments asked the town to suspend applications for conversions to overnight rentals, which can occur through an licensing and administrative process without council review or approval. Commenters have cited the 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 established tourism lodging businesses including B&Bs.
The commenters stressed the need for immediate council action, before nightly rental conversion requests become more common, and a thorough review of the town’s housing policies and options.
The overnight rental discussion was recently prompted by a conversion application that roused the interest of some town residents. At its 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 their street. That application would not be affected by a moratorium.
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. Nightly rentals are allowed in every zone except industrial and at the municipal airport.
More public input
At last week’s meeting, the council heard half-a-dozen oral comments (offered online or via a phone hookup, as the council meets virtually) and received another half-a-dozen letters supporting a moratorium. Also submitted were copies of a petition that was circulated throughout the town.
During the council’s discussion of the overnight rentals topic, Mayor Soo Ing-Moody reminded council members that “we need to be mindful and intentional” about how the town proceeds. She stressed that the town needs follow process and present a case to support its actions. If the council adopts a moratorium ordinance, it will be required to hold a public hearing within 60 days. Findings of fact to support the moratorium can be adopted before or after that hearing.
Council member Alan Caswell said he supported a moratorium but wanted more information about the current situation, and said owner-occupied rentals and B&Bs should be protected.
Town Planner Kurt Danison said there are currently six licensed nightly rental units in the town, but to his knowledge only four of those are active as overnight rentals. Of the town’s nearly 500 individual dwelling units, Danison said, less than 1% are licensed for nightly rentals.
Council member Easton said a moratorium would not affect any existing applications, and would give the town time to consider what policies it might adopt that would affect future applications.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to take the time now to decide what kind of town we want to be,” Easton said. “I don’t think a moratorium is going to hurt anybody.”
Ing-Moody said a moratorium “doesn’t have to halt everything … just things that may be adverse to our community … we can make exceptions … an intentional moratorium is absolutely doable.”
Studen, who lives across the street from the overnight rental conversion that kicked off the current discussion, said he did not think a moratorium is necessary for the town to begin a discussion of how it might change its policies. “We can do that work without a moratorium,” he said.
That said, Studen added that he saw no harm in a moratorium, acknowledged the widespread public support for such an action, and said he would not oppose it. He suggested exempting owner-occupied and commercially-zone buildings.
Council member Katrina Auburn supported that idea, noting that residents seem to be most concerned about the effect of overnight rentals on established neighborhoods.
Studen then offered his motion to draw up an ordinance with the owner-occupied and commercial zone exemptions, which was supported by Caswell and Auburn. Easton voted “no” because he opposed the exemptions. Council member Hans Smith was absent.
Ing-Moody said she would initiate action to draw up the proposed ordinance.