We have several updates this month, but first and foremost, we hope that you are staying healthy and safe. We will get through this pandemic together by staying home and following the necessary guidelines. Apologies for the length of this email, but we want to keep you informed...
Chelan County Bans STRs During Covid-19
Sadly, Chelan County is using Covid-19 to target Short-Term Rentals (STRs). On April 6, County Commissioners issued Emergency Resolution 2020-38, ordering vacation rentals tocease all operations in unincorporated areas of the county. Hotels, motels and inns, however, were inexplicably exempted from the order. Then last week on April 14, the county signed an Amended Resolution 2020-39, allowing people with RVs to return to property they own and the use of private campgrounds, while raising the fines for vacation rental owners to $5000 and a year in prison!
We know these are difficult times, but we don't understand the logic of banning STRs while allowing hotels and other lodging to continue operating when they pose as high a risk or higher of spreading the virus. As noted in a recent Wenatchee World article, an individual home that is sanitized after every visit is safer than places where many people gather in confined spaces like lobbies, elevators and common areas. Moreover, second homes are not just for vacations. We provide clean and safe lodging for healthcare professionals, family members caring for the elderly or sick, and others experiencing emergency situations during this pandemic. Accordingly, DHS guidance regards vacation rentals as essential lodging infrastructure, and Governor's Inslee's "Stay Home" order lists hospitality work as an essential service. Thankfully, just yesterday the Governor legally protected STR tenants by issuing a temporary moratorium on evictions during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the County continues to single out STRs based on misinformation created by public fear about an influx of visitors, which has been stoked by a vocal minority on social media. The Commissioners even acknowledged relying on "anecdotal evidence" online, perusing Facebook and Airbnb calendars, rather than obtaining factual data, to support their decision making.
New STR Study and 2020 Draft Code
During this pandemic, the Community Development Department is also renewing the County's effort to regulate the STR industry. Last month, they hired Berk Consulting to conduct a study on STR Situation Assessment & Options. The Berk study was well done in many respects and it's refreshing to see the County finally considering real and valuable data. Importantly, the study found little public support for new STR regulations. Of the public response from last year's STR draft code attempt, only 38% supported STR regulations, with 62% opposed or neutral to new STR regulations.
The study also noted the important economic impact of STRs, which generate over $51 million dollars of taxable rental revenue annually. This is a large number, but perhaps even more significantly, STR guests spent $40 million dollars last year on goods and services in our county, while another $17 million is spent annually on labor directly servicing STR homes, creating almost 1500 jobs for workers in Chelan County.
Despite the huge economic benefits to the community and lack of public support for regulating STRs, the County continues to push forward on the code process. Just last week, the Planning Commission published new STR Draft Code for 2020. The high-level proposals include:
While we oppose many of the proposed regulations as economically damaging to the STR industry and the community at large, we especially question the timing of entering this code review process during a pandemic. Covid-19 has and will continue to create great financial and emotional hardship on all of us in Chelan County. We worry that the stress will spill into public discussions with emotionally-charged individuals further dividing the community. We believe this is a time unite the community and focus on the prevention of a Covid-19 outbreak and local economic recovery, not engaging in what will highly be a highly contentious code review process. Therefore, STRACC will be formally requesting a public discussion on the merits of delaying the STR draft code until after the pandemic subsides.
Together We Win
It is frustrating that the County continues trying to infringe on our property rights and regulate STRs despite the beneficial impacts we bring to the community. Keep in mind, however, that we were successful fighting back the County's efforts last year and we will do so again this year. With your financial and vocal support, STRACC mounted a legal defense to help to defeat the 2019 draft code, which the County Commissioners voted unanimously against after hearing our arguments and community input. We also scored a major victor in a Peshastin resident's case, where County prosecutors eventually decided to settle after we filed our appeal to the LUPA order, enabling the family to continue their STR business. It's crystal clear, when we pull together, we can make a difference.
How You Can Help Now
We need everyone to stay in the fight for 2020 should the County decides to move forward. Here are 3 ways you can help right now:
1) Donate!We know times are hard, but please consider supporting STRACC. We need financial support to continue our legal defense of your property rights against the County.
2)Send a Letter! Let the Planning Commission know that how their actions are impacting your life and your business in the current environment. Let them know this is not the right time for the community to enter another contentious code review process.
3) Listen In! The Planning Commission will be holding a workshop tonight, Wednesday Apr 22 at 7pm to discuss the new draft code. The public will be able listen in to this virtual meeting via Zoom, but not provide public comment.