Until recently, overnight housing rentals weren’t much of an issue in Twisp. There aren’t many licensed in the town, and not all of them are currently operating as overnights.
It only took one new application — which will convert an existing rental house in a single-family residential neighborhood to a nightly rental — to change all that.
The nearby residents of West Twisp Avenue not only took notice, they also took action, and got other residents involved as well. They began to organize opposition and raise questions, write letters, speak at Town Council meetings and gather petition signatures. Their communications have been forceful but also thoughtful, articulate, informed and respectful. Now, thanks to that classic grassroots movement — activism, Twisp-style — the town is on the verge of taking a six-month breather from accepting conversion applications.
A proposed moratorium ordinance was on the agenda for this week’s Town Council meeting, and may already be approved by the time you read this. It would be a good move, for many reasons — starting with the willingness of Town Hall leadership to listen to its constituency. The idea for a moratorium came from directly from the citizenry. Attention must be paid.
Some have argued that because there are so few overnight rentals in Twisp, and so little interest in them until recently, there’s no cause for alarm or action, and thus no sense of urgency.
In the current political climate, that feels like backwards thinking. The prevailing argument, thankfully, seems to be that now is exactly the right time to consider the future of overnight rentals in Twisp, before it turns into the kind of problem that many other towns in the West — including Winthrop — have found themselves hastily struggling to catch up with.
A six-month moratorium on conversion applications would likely not be an onerous hardship, and would give the town and its residents time to consider, as more than one person has said, what kind of place Twisp wants to be.
The main concerns raised about overnight rentals — which some residents believe should be banned outright — are that they undermine an already depleted housing stock that doesn’t meet the needs of people who already live and work here; that random overnight rentals in the midst of established neighborhoods will deteriorate the existing residents’ quality of life; and that they compete with other lodging options in town. All are legitimate questions.
A few years back, faced with a growing number of conversions and loss of local housing stock, the Town of Winthrop imposed a couple of moratoria before revising its overnight rental policies. Overnights are not banned, but were certainly prescribed in a way that addressed neighborhood concerns. Twisp has been looking at how Winthrop dealt with the process, and may find some helpful guidance there.
A moratorium would also be a good launch for the kind of productive discussions we are confident can happen in Twisp. A lot of smart, well-meaning people have already invested time and energy into moving this issue to the forefront, and likely intend to keep it there. It’s been suggested that an ad hoc advisory committee could be formed to develop ideas about how the town might respond. That would be wise and inclusive way to take advantage of citizen interest and involvement, and perhaps help ensure buy-in to the town’s formal process.
The Twisp Town Council hasn’t exactly been eager to embrace the overnight rentals topic — to be fair, it hasn’t been a hot-button issue until a few weeks ago, and the council is dealing with a lot of other challenges, most of them pressing. But public sentiment on overnight rentals has been powerfully voiced and consistently on message: this is a concern, and people who live in Twisp think the town’s leaders need to acknowledge and respond.
They’re right about that, and the council seems to be on board with considering a moratorium. At a previous meeting, even though the vote was 3-1 in favor of initiating the process for a moratorium, the Town Council was essentially unanimous. The one dissenting vote reflected disagreement with the possible inclusion of certain exceptions in whatever restrictions a moratorium might impose.
A moratorium would be only the beginning point, and addressing the overnight rentals question — especially within the context of the valley’s vexing housing issues —won’t be a fast or easy exercise. And it’s too soon to assume outcomes. Patience, persistence and good faith will be required. Twisp is up to it.