Whatcom County Council will hold an advisory public hearing at 6 p.m. May 10 to gather public comments on proposed amendments to Title 20 zoning to regulate short-term vacation rentals (STRs). The purpose of the advisory hearing is to gauge public interest in whether such regulations are needed or supported by the public.
Council first took up the issue of STRs in 2014 after receiving complaints from neighbors abutting STRs. Under Whatcom County Code, vacation rentals are allowed wherever single-family dwellings are permitted. Council has discussed the issue in committees 12 times so far beginning September 16, 2014 through March 8, 2022. Staff provided a range of regulatory schemes ranging from permitted outright as single-family dwellings, permitted with performance standards, permitted in specified locations, permitted with registration through prohibition.
In more recent council planning and development committee meetings, interest was expressed in the process of registering STRs. Staff has offered one solution in the form of a software vendor, Granicus, which offers Host Compliance. The software automatically monitors over 60 STR websites and provides address information, compliance monitoring and permitting and registration. It also provides a 24/7 hotline with a dedicated phone number to make it easy for neighbors to report, prove and resolve non-emergency STR-related problems. It also allows hosts to report and submit taxes.
In August 2021, Granicus provided the county with data regarding the number of vacation/STR in the county listed on-line. The company found 1,656 unique rental units with a mean nightly rental rate of $207. The fee to provide all services (address ID, compliance monitoring, permitting & registration, 24/7 hotline, tax collection and rental activity monitoring) would cost $73.75 per STR or $122,1430 annually. The vendor recommended that the county set annual registration fees at twice the mean nightly rate or a total of $662,400 if all known STRs were registered and paid. The city of Bellingham uses the Granicus system and have expressed a high degree of satisfaction, according to staff.
In order to maintain consistency between zoning (Title 20) and the Shoreline Management Program (SMP), amendments were also proposed to Title 23 (Exhibit B). These amendments would:
Include vacation rental units and bed and breakfast establishments as part of a single-family residential use (rather than a commercial use) for purposes of determining permitted uses in various shoreline designations;
Remove bed and breakfasts as a conditional use in the Urban Conservancy and Conservancy shoreline designations;
Amend several definitions and add a definition of “vacation rental unit.”
Both sets of draft amendments have been reviewed by the county planning commission, which recommended approval. In 2016, the council held a hearing on the SMP amendments and passed Resolution 2016-039, forwarding the SMP amendments to the department of ecology (DOE) for its review (which approved them). However, council has not yet adopted an ordinance effecting them nor has council held a hearing or adopted the Title 20 (Zoning) amendments.
Since this process began there have been several elections and the council is comprised of different members than in 2014. To aid them in their decision making, the current council wants to hear from the public so as to gauge whether such regulations are needed. To that end, the council will be holding an advisory public hearing on May 10, 2022. Please visit bit.ly/38pq2tr to see how to participate and voice your opinion. For mor information, go to bit.ly/3LpFu7w
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