PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council passed a 180-day moratorium on the processing of permits for tourism homes and declared an emergency to waive council rules on a public hearing.
All five council members present Monday voted in favor of the ordinance. Councilwomen Amy Howard and Michelle Sandoval were absent.
“It’s really a pause. It’s stop action so that we can make a decision about what the regulation is going to be and move forward,” said Councilwoman Catharine Robinson.
“That’s all it is. This isn’t moving us into a new direction.”
Per council rules, the City Council is required to have a public hearing on the moratorium within 60 days of passing it. That would be May 19, but Mayor Deborah Stinson said the council plans to schedule a public hearing for a council meeting in April.
The council is scheduled to present, and possibly take action on, changes to the city code on short-term rentals during its April 3 meeting.
Council members have talked at length about making potential changes to the city code to promote more affordable long-term rentals for local residents as the city has struggled to combat a sharp decrease in affordable long-term housing and an increase in short-term rentals for tourists.
The council has spent months working with the city planning commission on a revised code.
Currently homes that aren’t owner-occupied cannot be used as a short-term rental, but according to comments submitted by the public at numerous council meetings — including Monday’s meeting — that hasn’t stopped people from listing entire homes on popular rental sites such as AirBnb.
The 180-day moratorium was proposed to allow the council and the city planning commission to make decisions on the proposed changes to the code before accepting applications for new tourist homes.
Councilman David Faber was strongly in support of the moratorium, urging all the council members in attendance to vote in favor of it so the council would have time to make progress on not only short-term rental rules, but also on tackling Port Townsend’s lack of affordable housing.
“I know that stepping back from tourist homes isn’t going to fix the lack of affordable housing,” Faber said.
“The concern that I have right now is that there are so many pieces falling away in short-term rentals that are taking viable long-term rentals off the market.”
Faber said the council needed “breathing room” to update regulations on short-term rentals.
“I know so many people in the community with no place to rent,” Faber said.
Gray, along with councilwomen Robinson and Pamela Adams all supported passing the ordinance.
“I agree that this is important that we get this pause and when we bring it back to get it right,” Stinson said.