WENATCHEE — People spilled into the hallways of the Confluence Technology Center Wednesday night for a vacation rental regulations meeting.
It was the regularly scheduled meeting for the Chelan County Planning Commission, but the commission allowed public comment on vacation rentals.
More than 100 attended, many of them wearing yellow shirts in support of vacation rentals and against regulations. The testimony went on for 90 minutes and the planning commission continued the hearing to the next planning commission meeting in August.
Members of the Short Term Rental Alliance stood outside the doors to the meeting before it started, handing out the yellow T-shirts and helping people sign up to speak. The organization consists of owners and operators of vacation rentals and was created in opposition to proposed regulations.
It was a tense meeting with people speaking over and even shouting at Planning Commission Chairman Jordan Devitt.
More than 20 people spoke. Most people talked about the impacts vacation rentals had on neighborhoods and the cost of housing. A fewer number of individuals spoke in support of vacation rental property owners and managers, but that was in part because those individuals agreed to speak on behalf of larger groups at the meeting.
Steve Stroud, of Leavenworth, said that vacation rentals were turning neighborhoods into commercial enterprises. The community feel and function of the residences have disappeared, he said.
“Front yards become parking lots,” Stroud said. “The squeal and laughter of children in the evening become boisterous groups and drunk conversations with lights left on all night.”
Bob Fallon and his wife Marty Fallon, of Leavenworth, also spoke during the meeting. Bob Fallon said the county clearly had the authority to regulate vacation rentals based on previous land use decisions on other issues.
“Chelan County did not shrink from restricting legal marijuana grows that had been permitted and who tried mightily to work with neighbors and the county to continue their operations,” Bob Fallon said. “The restriction was imposed based on complaints of neighborhoods in defiance of private property rights and in a county that fosters agrarian enterprises.”
Kaylin Bettinger, Upper Valley MEND director, said she owns a nightly rental and a long-term rental, but supports regulation. The county’s proposed regulations, though, failed to address problems of affordability caused by vacation rentals.
“When homes are priced based on their earning potential, it prices out many of the people who live here and make our communities thrive,” Bettinger said.
Sean Lynn, owner of Love Leavenworth, asked the audience members to participate in a little show and tell. He had everyone who had stayed in a vacation rental to raise their hands. Then he asked everyone who had done things to the neighbors that would be considered impolite, rude or dangerous. Only one person kept their hand raised.
“Most of them behave properly, most of them drive the speed limit, most of them don’t throw garbage around, most of them aren’t howling at the moon in the middle of the night,” Lynn said. “So yes, you will hear stories; yes, it happens. Again, I feel for you people who live next to neighbors where this happens on a regular basis. But that is no reason to vilify these folks and shut down vacation rentals.”
The real issue is that people don’t have neighbors to talk with, he said. If neighbors had someone they could call when something happens, who manages the vacation rental, it would solve a lot of problems.
“Commissioner (Doug) England had a great comment at the end of one of these meetings and he said, ‘If we could just create a code where everyone gets along,’” Lynn said. “What a great idea, right? We can’t do that, unfortunately. But what we can do is we can create a code that allows neighbors to know who they are communicating with.”