WENATCHEE — Existing short-term rentals in Chelan County would be grandfathered in and new rentals in some areas would be capped, with a lottery to award permits when applications exceed the limit.
Those are some of the details in the county’s latest draft short-term rental code based on recommendations by the nine-member Chelan County Short-Term Rental Task Force. The proposed code will be presented to the public June 15 for comment.
The ad hoc committee of short-term rental owners, neighborhood residents, housing affordability champions and current and former planning commission members was appointed in January to help find a way forward in the two-plus-year effort to develop short-term rental regulations.
The idea was to establish rules to help not only with neighborhood complaints of noise, trash and parking at houses rented out for 30 days or less, but to address affordable housing concerns. The commercial ventures, some argued, cut into available housing and push up home prices.
Settling on the rules to fix the problem, though, proved difficult. County commissioners, after hearing hours of heated public testimony from short-term rental owners on one side and neighbors on the other, asked the planning commission to restart the process three times in the span of a couple years.
In December, after another round of public hearings and debate on how to fairly phase out some existing rentals, among other things, Jim Brown, the county’s planning director, proposed bringing together representatives from all sides to find common ground.
The commission appointed the task force members who met six times from Feb. 22 through April 23. Their charge, according to the report presented to county commissioners on May 7, was to “listen, engage and seek consensus” on how best “to allow property owner income while protecting the character of residential communities across the county.”
The task force was asked to answer six questions ranging from where short-term rentals should be allowed to how to deal with existing rentals and how to decide on a cap.
Included in the proposal is a limit — 6% of the total housing stock in an area identified by zip code — on non-owner occupied rentals in most areas of the county. The rules in Manson and Peshastin would be different, following previously approved regulations for each area. The cap in the Manson area would be 9%, while in Peshastin, short-term rentals would not be allowed at all. The 98826 zip code in Leavenworth would be divided into three sub-areas — Leavenworth, Plain and Lake Wenatchee — each with its own 6% cap. The urban growth areas around Cashmere, Chelan, Entiat, Leavenworth and Wenatchee would follow those cities’ rules.
In areas where the number of short-term rentals exceeds the cap, the current permits would be grandfathered in and allowed to continue operating while offering the ability to sell the property as a short-term rental once in the span of five years. No new permits would be issued until the number of rentals dropped below the capacity limit and then would be issued based on a waiting list or lottery system, depending on the number of applications.
The proposed code also sets minimum lot sizes and distance requirements for non-owner occupied rentals and requires facilities for larger groups (more than 12 total guests) to acquire conditional use permits in some zones.
The county’s community development staff worked the task force’s recommendations into the draft code that was reviewed by commissioners Tuesday during a workshop. Another workshop is scheduled Monday before it goes to the June 15 public hearing.
Copies of the task force report and the proposed draft code are now available — for viewing and comment — on the county’s website at wwrld.us/rentalspage. Details of the public hearing will be listed there as well.
The task force report also includes statements from members outlining some of the issues they did not have time to address in full including noise, enforcement, septic and water efficiency concerns.
The commission expects to adopt a final code before the end of the year, according to the report. The county currently has a year-long moratorium on new short-term rentals that runs through Aug. 25.