Port Townsend council sets May 1 hearing on tourist homes

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has set a May 1 hearing to take public comment on changes recommended by the city planning commission on the section of the city code pertaining to tourist homes.

The council took some public comment on the issue during Monday’s meeting. Much of it was from residents concerned that extra regulations would make things more confusing.

“I’m just trying to provide some input that makes sense to me,” said Peter Quinn, a citizen of Port Townsend who runs a vacation home.

“It’s one thing to regulate, but if there are too many regulations, you lose that consistency.”

In 2015, the city council debated implementing a three-year pilot program for non-owner-occupied short-term rentals. The city sent it to the planning commission for an opinion, and in July 2016, the planning commission presented a unanimous “no” against the pilot program.

As the city code stands now, non-owner-occupied tourist homes are illegal in Port Townsend. This means homeowners cannot put an entire residence up for rent for tourists.

Council members have expressed throughout the course of the discussion that they want empty residences to go to residents of Port Townsend because of a shortage of affordable housing in the area.

The planning commission recommendation includes clarifications to the code that would regulate what constitutes an “on-site” rental owner, what the code would allow in the way of kitchen appliances and how to deal with rentals with a separate entrance.

Separate entrances are often seen in the case of an accessory dwelling unit attached to a home, which is not allowed to be used as a short-term rental, according to Lance Bailey, planning director.

The code also requires those who want to use their homes as tourist rentals to apply for business licenses and permits.

The council has debated these changes in meetings and workshops since 2015, but the code has been a point of contention since 2006, when the council specified that short-term rentals could only be rented for 29 days or less.

In a meeting March 20, the council approved an ordinance that put a 180-day moratorium on applications for tourist homes to allow the council to make decisions on the city code.

Since 2015, the city had received and approved 13 applications for tourist homes, but with potential changes coming to the city code, the council wanted to ensure that new applications would have to apply under the new code.

At a public hearing May 1, the council will present the proposed changes to municipal codes 3, 5 and 17 that were discussed at a workshop March 13.

All the ordinances are available online at the city’s website, www.cityofpt.com.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].

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