In light of the success of Airbnb and other web-based lodging services, officials want to develop a set of rules for nightly rentals in unincorporated areas of Grays Harbor County.
“We don’t really have a lot of common sense rules on how to govern these things because they’re fairly new,” Mark Cox, the county’s director of community development said. “… There may be 400-500 that aren’t zoned properly.”
Currently, if a homeowner wants to list a property for rental on websites, such as Airbnb.com, they need a conditional-use permit, at least in areas under county jurisdiction, which essentially means outside cities and incorporated towns in the county.
“Right now, we don’t have anyplace where it’s allowed (without a conditional-use permit), except for places like Seabrook where they’ve built it in,” Cox said. Seabrook, the about 12-year-old resort community on the coast, predates Airbnb and the other web-based lodging rental businesses, but it always envisioned homeowners having the option of using their properties as nightly rentals so they incorporated rules governing them into their regulations.
The county has some catching up to do.
“What we’re trying to do at this point is come up with some commonsense rules that we can maybe do some of these administratively in house without having to go through the conditional use process. That’s an expensive, time-consuming process that not everyone who has a nightly rental should go through.”
The Planning Division is considering bringing together a group of citizens “with skin in the game,” as Cox said.
“We talked about an approach to collect a group of seven to 12 interested citizens for a short term, ad hoc committee to do one workshop to get the basic idea of where we want to go with this,” he said. “And then do a follow-up workshop to evaluate a draft ordinance.”
Ideally, a committee would be made up of homeowners, both with rental property and nonrenters, as well as business owners.
“We’ve had a number of people that have complained about the nightly rentals. … There’s a lot of people that are impacted by this. They’re not just the owners and people who live next door to these,” Cox said. “Everybody has valid concerns.”
He would like to hold a meeting early next month with the goal of having regulations before the county commissioners early next year.
In the meantime, Cox prefers that the county enact a moratorium on new conditional-use permits for nightly rentals.
“Right now there are people that are doing it out of compliance with the zoning ordinance,” he said. “What we’re saying is, we’re not going to come after you. It doesn’t mean, go start up a new business and you’re not going to have to follow any rules. You still have to follow the rules.”