By Douglas Knight

Before elected to the Bend City Council, while working within the leadership of both the River West and Old Bend Neighborhood Associations, I advocated for protecting our neighborhoods and preserving their livability. Neighborhood character may actually be the most important and treasured aspect of our community, and in my mind this “livability” is synonymous with “quality of life,” which is, as I see it, the true ethos of Bend.

Livability is a catchword that underlies a variety of conversations Bend has had over the years, but recent complaints I’ve heard from citizens give me great concern:

Whether it be speeding traffic on residential streets or the virtual conveyor belt of visitors at the vacation rental next door, our neighborhoods, and especially those in close proximity to downtown and Drake Park, are feeling serious pressure.

In the past few months the topic of vacation rental homes and their place within the city has reached a new fervor. I have heard firsthand from neighbors who are virtually surrounded by vacation rental by owners (VRBOs) and about the challenges they say makes living next door intolerable.

These critics also point to an authorization process that is one of the most streamlined in the state, and that many vacation rentals don’t have the right permits or don’t bother to pay taxes. A recent city of Bend audit did reveal a small number of transient room tax violations, and to their credit, most of these vacation rental owners made attempts to satisfy their city tax liability, but strikingly, the audit also revealed that nearly half of all vacation rentals had no permit from the planning department to legally operate.

Vacation rentals may be an important part of Bend’s economic vitality, and tourism is a key part of our history and our future. After all, families who stay in vacation rentals may someday become residents here, or bring business here, but hearing the complaints as I have, I think it is time we evaluate whether this economic vitality comes at an expense to our community that the citizens of Bend feel is just too costly. For example, it may very well be that part of the recent dearth of long-term rental inventory may be attributed to owners converting these homes into short-term VRBOs because of the enormous economic incentives to do so, and with this, our rental inventory and even the Bend rental market is now out of balance.

This fall, the Bend Planning Commission will begin a review of Bend’s residential district development standards. Individuals and neighborhood associations will have an opportunity to express their concerns about residential livability issues from parking problems to noise and other issues associated with granny flats (accessory dwelling units) as well as vacation rentals. The needs of economic development and affordable housing should also be a part of the conversation.

We can also incorporate other meaningful data that the city will gather from cross-referencing vacation rental addresses with noise and code violations, in the hopes of defining problems and finding true solutions.

The Bend Planning Division intends to fold this analysis and community dialogue together into what I hope will be suggestions to refine our residential code as part of an amendment process. It will then be up to our planning commission and the City Council to make changes to the Bend code that benefit us all.

Please get involved. Go to the city website, www.bendoregon.gov, to track this issue and when the meetings will be held. Bend’s residential character and quality of life depends upon it.

— Douglas Knight is a Bend city councilor.

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