Coupeville Town Council votes to restrict short-term rentals

Coupeville is adding stricter regulations on short-term rentals as a way to address the lack of housing and to preserve “social character” of its neighborhoods.

The town council voted unanimously Tuesday night to amend its transient accommodation ordinance, after more than a year of evaluating to rules.

The effort began as a response to the rise in internet vacation rental sites, such as Airbnb and VRBO.

The new regulations require annual licensing for bed and breakfasts and other transient accommodations, limits the number of rooms in certain zones and prohibits certain activities at short-term rentals. The changes are meant to minimize the impact on long-term housing availability, preserve the character of residential neighborhoods, reduce land-use incompatibility, facilitate more responsiveness to potential issues and to protect health and safety of guests, according to a memo on the amendments.

The new regulations take effect Dec. 19.

The town received numerous comments on the code, representing many in favor of stricter regulations and many who felt the changes would hurt local businesses.

Bed and breakfasts in residential zones will be limited to two guest rooms. Short-term dwellings, like Airbnbs, are dwelling units used for transient accommodation and will be prohibited from residential zones. However, homes that are rented out on a short-term basis will still be able to operate in residential areas as long as they were legally established before Dec. 19.

The town added requirements for a local contact to be available at an hour’s notice when guests are in the residence.

Many owners of short-term rentals submitted comments saying that the model is good for the local economy and fills a need caused by a “lack of lodging” options on the island. Others said the revolving door of groups could be disruptive to the neighborhood.

“Coupeville residents have accepted that tourism is good for economic development and I consider we are a town that welcomes our visitors who come to enjoy the beauty of Coupeville and Central Whidbey,” Coupeville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynda Eccles wrote in an email to staff, “but I don’t want to see us labeled as a ‘typical tourist town’ full of vacation rentals and guest houses, owned by many who live off island.”

“In my opinion, we would lose that community spirit we are so proud of.”

The new rules also prohibit outdoor amplified sound and social events with people who aren’t registered guests.

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