Town places moratorium on short-term vacation rentals

Coupeville Town Council has voted not to allow any new applications for short-term vacation rentals for the next six months.

During the moratorium, the town plans to review its rules and regulations surrounding “transient accommodations,” as they’re referred to in town code.

“The town codes regarding small-scale vacation rentals have not been updated in 18 years,” Planning Director Owen Dennison said during the town council meeting.

During that time, the internet has changed the industry, he said, and it may be time for a community discussion as to whether the codes should be updated.

“It is prudent to close the window for new applications now while the policy and regulations are developed,” Dennison said.

The town has received no guest house applications, and only one application for transient housing in two years, Dennison noted.

A “guest house” is defined as a single-family home rented for 30 days or less, and bed-and-breakfast inns will not be affected. Guest houses operating legally, as well as those operating without permits can continue despite the moratorium, he said.

“This is a very complex issue,” Mayor Molly Hughes said. “It involves land use in our town, it involves competitive fairness with our legal or permitted bed-and-breakfast hotels and motels. It involves a fair playing field for everybody. It involves the collection of sales tax.”

”There’s going to be enforcement that we’re going to have to figure out.”

Hughes said the town fully understands that there will be a lot of opinions on the subject, and that there will be many opportunities for the public to discuss it.

“We’re not going to get on Airbnb and make everybody cancel their reservations,” she said. “All this moratorium is doing is putting (applications) on hold for the next six months while we’re discussing all the different aspects of this and what we want our code to be for the Town of Coupeville for transient rentals, or in other words, anything under 30 days.”

For business and homeowner Daniel Cornell, the moratorium represents a town council that, he said, is “anti-tourist.”

Cornell owns Island Life Services, a business that helps homeowners run vacation rentals. He himself is in the process of restoring a house in Coupeville to rent out.

Cornell said he is worried that the moratorium will negatively impact those who are trying to play by the rules and rent out according to town codes.

“The people who are doing it under the radar will continue to do it under the radar,” he said. “This just affects people who are trying to become legit.”

“What happens to those who’ve already invested?” Cornell asked.

A hearing on the moratorium, officially called Ordinance No. 745, is currently scheduled for July 10 at the regularly scheduled town council meeting.

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