Port Angeles city policy draws criticism

Short-term rental owners bristle at moratorium

PORT ANGELES — About a dozen people complained to the Port Angeles City Council about the moratorium on short-term rentals during this week’s council meeting, urging the city to provide additional clarity on its policies and to allow homeowners to offer their properties as rentals.

The council didn’t take any action regarding short-term rentals on Tuesday, but in June it prohibited the creation of any new rentals using online platforms like VRBO and Airbnb.

Several people — all of whom identified themselves as short-term rental (STR) owners — spoke during public comment periods to express their frustration with the city’s policy.

“We believe that we have been an asset to this community and we believe that we provide a service to this community that the community needs,” said Donette Hope, a teacher with the Port Angeles School District.

“We’ve housed teachers, we’ve housed nurses, we’ve housed people coming to visit the national park,” she said. “We believe that this community needs to have short-term rentals.”

In June, the city contracted with GovOS Inc of Austin, Texas, for $40,000 to help collect data on local STRs and draft policies for regulating them. That process, which is expected to take 16 weeks, is currently in its seventh week.

Under the contract, GovOS will create an inventory of all the STRs within city limits and determine which are allowed under the city’s current zoning-based regulations. The company also will determine how much lodging tax is generated or lost from existing rentals.

GovOS also will help the city draft policies for bringing unpermitted STRs into compliance and create a fee schedule for implementing a compliance program.

Several of the commenters Tuesday talked about the money STRs generate for the city through lodging taxes.

“I do think that permits or fees or additional bidding systems are unnecessary given the amount that we short-term rental owners already generate for the City of Port Angeles,” said Jake Purvis, a Clallam County resident who said he owns three homes and a business in Port Angeles.

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin noted at the meeting the city’s policy on short-term rentals was established in 2017 and allowed the rentals only in certain zones of the city.

“So a lot of people started short-term rentals, and I think probably without looking at existing law, and started businesses that are illegal under the current city code,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“In the meantime, I’m kind of like, you know, if you don’t want to run an illegal business in Port Angeles, and have code compliance come after you because somebody filed a complaint, you can always sell. You can stop running your illegal business, so I apologize for maybe sounding a bit harsh on that.”

City Manager Nathan West said information on short-term rental policy is available at the city’s website at https://www.cityofpa.us.

“I think it’s important that we take a very close look at the warning letters that have been sent out on enforcement and make sure that those are adequately providing the information necessary to inform property owners and make things as predictable as possible relative to what to expect next,” West said.

“But our primary goal is voluntary compliance and not trying to do any kind of enforcement. That is difficult. That will be our first step,” he said.

The council did vote unanimously to update the city’s residential zoning code to allow for additional accessory dwelling units, remove setback requirements and other changes aimed at increasing housing density within city limits.

“I think there also seems to be a viewpoint from several of the council that if only the short-term rentals weren’t here, that would be better,” said Port Angeles resident Jim Hubbard. “We’d have affordable housing. We’d have all these units available, and I just don’t see that.”

“The solution is not getting rid of the short-term rentals,” Hubbard said. “In my view, the economic benefits of the short-term rentals outweigh the harm that they can do to the housing market.”


Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuldailynews.com.

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