WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Planning Commission is sending regulations for vacation rentals back to county planners to be revamped.
Planning commission members were mixed about whether vacation rentals should be regulated by the county or how. But the majority agreed on one thing: The county already has laws that addressed many of the complaints submitted by residents, such as noise, that are not being enforced.
Board members want the Chelan County Community Development Department to see how to address residents’ concerns. The 8-1 vote took place Wednesday.
Board member Ryan Kelso voted against sending the regulations back to the county department. He did not explain.
“My current problem with the draft code is it creates additional regulation, much of which points at existing regulation, which is not being enforced,” said Jordan McDevitt, Planning Commission board chair. “That makes people who are experiencing negative effects from short-term rentals feel good, but (it does) not effectively change their lives in any meaningful way.”
McDevitt said he wasn’t opposed to regulating vacation rentals. But it needed to be done in a way that would make a difference, instead of being a needless burden on the operators.
One question that hadn’t been discussed, McDevitt said, is how many vacation rentals were too many. Some places like Bend, Oregon, passed regulations limiting the percentage of vacation rental homes based on the number of single-family residences in the community.
“The Leavenworth area is too close to too many people with too much money that if nightly rentals are too attractive to investors, people could come in and eventually entire neighborhoods are converted to short-term rentals,” he said. “If that’s what we want we should decide now and that’s OK.”
The planning commission does not have the right to dictate what a person does with their private property, though, Planning Commission Vice-Chair Vicki Malloy said. People don’t get to choose their neighbors.
“Like a sex offender moves into your neighborhoods and it’s like, well, we don’t want them here,” Malloy said. “But really, you can’t say anything about them living in your neighborhood other than making it difficult for them. You have no right to dictate who moves in next door to you.”
Other board members also brought up concerns about property rights and highlighted a low number of police calls on vacation rentals.
It is a different experience talking about vacation rentals compared to living next to one, board member Pat Hammersmith said. The property next to her home is a vacation rental and despite numerous problems she’s never called the police, because she fears the situation escalating.
“I have never called in a complaint about noise and I’ve had a right to,” Hammersmith said. “I have spoken to the guests next door to me about the noise issue and it was like I was insulting them and they retaliate against you.”
Guests flick cigarette butts over her fence, ignore signs saying private property and even move her deck furniture so they can take photos on her private dock, she said. It feels like her property rights are being violated and there is nothing she can do about it.
“Give us as property owners a way to complain so we feel safe in our homes that we’ve lived in for many years,” Hammersmith said. “But now we don’t feel like we have any rights because they come and make noise, they trespass, they smoke, toss their cigarette butts. It is frustrating.”