By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Neighbors of an aspiring AirBnB host may soon have the chance to share how much they love or hate the idea before their neighbor can receive a permit from the city of Bend.

Such a policy was recommended late last month by the city’s vacation home rental task force, which is crafting new rules to govern the industry. The City Council will have final say over the proposed regulations and is scheduled to consider them in March. The task force was formed in response to complaints from residents of River West and Old Bend who said their neighborhoods are overrun with rentals.

Thursday, the task force is scheduled to review draft code language prepared by city staff. The drafts are based on recommendations the task force members voted for last month. During the most recent meeting, much of their time was spent discussing rules intended to prevent the clustering of rentals in small areas.

One proposal would allow 5 to 10 percent of houses to be rentals within an area extending 250 feet in any direction from a residential property line. The percentage range was a compromise, as a number of proposals between 5 percent and 20 percent were discussed.

The task force also suggested another, stricter rule on density. The second proposal would allow for one rental within any 250-foot radius. On top of that, the second proposal would put a cap on the ratio of houses that are rentals within any quarter-mile radius of between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Later in the meeting, the group worked on creating a more thorough rental permit application process. Applications for a home or room rental are not able to be appealed by neighbors and do not require public notice. The city does have parking requirements, but they are not actively enforced.

“Right now, there are no rules, there’s nothing to complain about because rentals are unregulated,” said Stephen Junkins, a member of the task force upset about the impact of rentals in his neighborhood.

The task force voted to recommend a more stringent application process that requires aspiring rental owners to place a notice sign in their yard and to hold a public meeting for anyone living within 500 feet of their property line. The applicant would also be required to invite the chairman of the neighborhood association that the rental falls in.

“We’re not requiring anyone to feed the entire neighborhood during the meeting,” said Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore, who oversees the task force meetings. “The task force is working to ensure that there is the opportunity for neighbors to be notified of what might be happening and for the applicant to understand the concerns neighbors may have.”

Not everyone who attends such a neighborhood meeting would have the ability to appeal an application, however, as the task force recommended granting that ability only to properties within 250 feet. Any appeal would have to be based on whatever spacing and parking requirements are adopted by the City Council.

“Land use appeals aren’t popularity contests,” Skidmore said. “They would need to address the applicable criteria.”

While not everyone invited to the public meeting would be able to appeal, Skidmore said having such a meeting would give rental owners a good sense of the community’s attitude.

“If you decided to propose a rental and met staunch resistance, it might give you pause and you might change your plans to avoid having an adversarial neighbor,” Skidmore said.

These rules are targeted only at rentals in residential neighborhoods, as those in commercial and mixed-use areas would be less stringently regulated. Additionally, rentals that are used for 20 days or fewer a year would have a streamlined approval process. However, the task force decided the public meeting and appeal rules would apply not only to the renting of an entire house but also a single room, a type of rental popular on the website AirBnB.

Junkins acknowledged that many room rentals are “lower impact,” but said that’s the case only when the owner is on-site, something which isn’t always the case and would be hard to check on.

Sue Carrington, another task force member and a rental company owner, said she’s worried “the city will red tape the vacation rental industry into the past tense.”

Carrington agrees that some neighborhoods are clogged with rentals, but said making it harder to bring in new ones will mean the city will receive less tax revenue from rentals. As a result, she argued, funding new enforcement efforts could be tricky.

Hanging over the whole task force is the understanding that state law prevents any new rules from being applied to existing rentals, meaning it could be decades before the density issues in River West and Old Bend subside.

However, the task force is considering what it can legally do. The group did agree that any new permits would be tied to a property owner and not transferable if a house sells, something that could stop a future build-up.

Skidmore also said the city hopes to implement an operating license program that could be applied to owners of existing rentals “after a sufficient amount of time and education.”

“An operating permit would be an annual check-in, where you submit some nominal amount of money and we verify the rental still complies with parking requirements,” Skidmore said. “The idea has floated around that we could also look at public safety or noise complaints, and you could potentially lose your license if there have been a bunch of violations.”

Such a proposal offers little comfort to those living in the affected areas today.

“If we could rewind the whole situation, and instead of trying to fix the gold rush after the fact, we could have had much more balanced approach,” Junkins said. “What we have now is so unbalanced. Our neighbors sound dramatic, but we have no way of clawing back and preserving our neighborhoods for real residents and making sure we have an intact community.”

The task force is scheduled to meet Thursday p.m. in City Hall.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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