Council suggests revisions to proposed policy changes
The Twisp Planning Commission delivered its proposals for revising the town’s regulation of overnight rentals to the Town Council last week, along with a tight timeline for action before the moratorium on conversion of existing dwellings to overnight use expires on Nov. 9.
At its Sept. 12 meeting, the council offered some suggestions and raised some questions about the proposals. That feedback was to be considered at the Planning Commission’s meeting the following day (Sept. 13). The commission will also continue its discussions and go through a public review process in preparation for an Oct. 25 public hearing.
After the public hearing, the commission will make its final set of recommendations to the council for possible action at its Nov. 14 meeting — a few days after the moratorium expires after being place for 18 months. If the council adopts the commission’s recommendations at that meeting, any proposed ordinance changes would have to go through a separate process.
Another option might be to further extend the moratorium, which the council has been advised it has the authority to do — but it then must hold a subsequent public hearing to reiterate the findings of fact that supported the original moratorium action.
At last week’s council meeting, Planning Commission Chairman John Battle reviewed the commission’s recommendations, which included redefining overnight housing as “short-term vacation rentals” (STVRs), exclusion of such housing from any of the town’s residential zones, increasing permit fees, expanding the list of owner application requirements and guest obligations, and stepping up enforcement.
According to the commission’s report, there are currently two STVR units operating in residential zones, and three in commercial zones.
The commission’s deliberations determined that “if STVRs were prohibited in residential areas, it would have little impact on housing availability and guest’s choices,” the report said. Battle said the commission concluded that the benefits of allowing STVRs in residential zones was “insubstantial.”
“It is important to understand that the STVR’s do not include hotels, motels, or B&Bs, as those uses are regulated separately. Also, STVRs only include rental housing for 30 consecutive days or less. Eventually we agreed to not distinguish between owner-occupied units and non-owner-occupied units to simplify the code and enforcement,” the report said.
Council member Mark Easton noted that the most consistent thing residents have said is that they want to keep their neighborhoods intact.
Council member Hans Smith questioned whether some of the proposed rules and requirements for owners and renters were enforceable, and said the list should distinguish between requirements for permitting (which the town can enforce) and rules for guests (which would be the owners’ responsibility).
Much of the council’s discussion was about whether the distinction between owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied units should be restored to the proposed revisions. The council directed the commission to review that question.
Twisp extended its then-year-long moratorium on conversion of existing dwellings to overnight rentals for another six months in May of this year. In the preceding year since the moratorium was first imposed (and the extended) after an outpouring of public sentiment, little progress had been made toward revising relevant town ordinances. The Town Council made review of the ordinances a priority for the Planning Commission.
With the council’s blessing, the Planning Commission formed an ad hoc group of citizen volunteers to help with research, including a review of how other towns have dealt with overnight housing issue.
The current moratorium stops conversions of existing residential housing to overnight rentals, including properties in commercial zones. It does not affect hotels, motels or existing overnight rentals including B&Bs.
The first moratorium was adopted after residents expressed concerns about the potential effects of overnight rental conversions on the housing market and on neighborhood ambience. Most of the comments asked the town to suspend applications for conversions to overnight rentals, which can occur through a 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.
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 currently allowed in every zone except industrial and at the municipal airport.