Westport stews on short term rental regs

City council votes against proposed caps for second time in three months

Recommendations to limit the number of vacation rentals in residential zones were voted down by the Westport City Council Monday evening, marking the second time in two and a half months the body has asked the city’s planning commission to reexamine its proposed caps on nightly rentals.

An additional 3-2 vote later in Monday’s meeting denied a proposed temporary moratorium on new short-term rentals, mirroring action from a city council meeting in July.

Compared to its initial suggestions in August, the planning commission softened its recommendations for restrictions on vacation rentals in a proposed change to city code on Monday, suggesting that tourist housing not exceed 10% of stock in residential zones and 15% of stock in ocean beach residential zones, an inflation of 5% for each area of the city compared to the caps it recommended in August, which were also rejected.

Those percentages are based on the number of short-term rentals compared to the total number of developed or undeveloped parcels within a given zone, based on data from the Grays Harbor County Assessor’s Office, said City Councilor Troy Meyers.

In its Oct. 30 recommendations, the commission left vacation rentals unrestricted in mixed use/tourist commercial zones and proposed exemptions for housing developments designed specifically for the purpose of vacation rentals, or that already regulate them with neighborhood covenants.

The latest recommendations would have allowed for an additional 84 short-term rentals throughout the four residential zones, where short-term rentals make up close to 4% of the property parcels, according to vacation rental data from July. Short-term rentals are allowed in any Westport zone that allows single family dwellings.

Council members who voted against imposing that cap — Meyers, Melissa Huerta and Tom Aronson — did not propose alternative caps at Monday’s meeting.

In an email, Meyers expressed a number of concerns about exempting individual homeowner’s associations from vacation rental regulations, citing the potential for those neighborhoods to sidestep municipal code, and issues with abutting homeowner’s association neighborhoods.

He was not in favor of the planning commission’s recommendations after Councilor Rose Jensen, motioned to remove the exception for homeowners associations.

“We could have stripped out the HOA exception and moved forward with the caps but as we are nowhere near them (reaching the caps) there is just not a reason to rush into something,” Meyers wrote in an email on Tuesday.

According to the most recent data from the city, Westport has approved 14 new short-term rental applications since 2022, and another 32 are currently pending.

Councilors Huerta and Aronson did not respond to email inquiries by press time on Tuesday.

Jensen and Councilor Louis Summers, who voted to pass the caps and regulations, have said the council should take action after lengthy mulling by the planning commission.

“We’ve been discussing this for over a year and a half,” Summers said. “We’ll be sitting here for another year and a half trying to get this taken care of.”

In August the city council unanimously voted to sharpen enforcement measures contained in Westport’s city code for short-term rentals, which has been in place since 2006. That action gave the city a more robust code for rules surrounding occupancy, parking limits, inspections and solid waste collection, and added a local property representative requirement for each rental — an individual designated by the property owner responsible for responding to complaints about the unit within 30 minutes, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The new code imposed $500 fines, misdemeanor offenses and suspended licenses for rental managers in violation of rules like occupancy and parking limits.

Those enforcement measures, Meyers said during Monday’s meeting, were the “parts I was most interested in, because that will have a direct impact on people’s lives. All this other stuff, it won’t affect anybody’s life in the short term, so I want to get this right.”

The council also raised the short term rental application fee to $1,500 in September. At Monday’s meeting the council chose by a 3-2 vote to reduce the fee by half following a motion from Councilor Huerta.

Jensen and Summers have called for a temporary stop on new approvals of short-term rental applications while the council and planning commission hash out suitable regulations. The six-month moratorium proposed by Jensen on Monday was similar to a motion made by Summers in July, and the same as the six-month vacation rental halt the city of Port Angeles enacted a month earlier for the same reason. Port Angeles also hired a contractor to conduct an inventory and analysis of all vacation rentals within the city limits.

Currently, Councilor Meyers is working to gather short-term rental data for Westport and update the city’s method of inventory. By his count there are 165 short-term rentals in Westport, including 109 in commercial zones and 56 in residential zones, however, “Until I have everything entered from the paper files and make contact with existing permit holders to confirm their operating status we won’t have completely accurate data,” he wrote in an email.

The city is currently in the process of forming a broader short-term rental committee to advise the city council on vacation rental issues in the future. The Westport planning commission is scheduled to meet next on Nov. 21.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.