We wanted to send out an update on our legal fight against the proposed STR regulations. We apologize for the length of this email, but we trust you'll find it worthwhile. There have been some very interesting recent developments, including the County's response to legal actions that STRACC has been working on for a while but unable to reveal until now. Please read on...
As you might recall, earlier this month STRACC filed a lawsuit against Chelan County for violating the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). We provided documentary evidence that the Commissioners illegally drafted their Vision Statement for the STR regulations in private emails without public inputand sent it prescriptively to the Planning Commission (PC) to draft the proposed code. Our lawsuit asked for an injunction on all legislative action pertaining to STRs in 2020. Since we filed, the BoCC has been consulting with County attorneys on a legal response, which helps explain the last-minute cancellations of the last two BoCC workshops.
Well, the County finally responded this week by remanding the draft regulations back to the PC for further review with instructions to "disregard the Commissioners' Vision Statement" and hold another public hearing before a final decision. In yesterday's Wenatchee World article, Commissioner England claimed that the motivation behind STRACC's lawsuit was to "delay the implementation of regulations to allow more people to build short-term rentals, which then they feel will be grandfathered in." On Tuesday, the Commissioners had used this justification to place a temporary moratorium on new STR developments and designations, effective immediately until STR regulations are finalized.
To set the record straight, STRACC's intention was never to delay the process so more STRs could be built before the code was passed. In fact, the thought never crossed our minds since the proposed code as it stands would not grandfather in most STRs. We filed the OPMA lawsuit simply because we believe that the regulatory process should be transparent with public input from both sides, not initiated with a secretly-drafted Vision Statement prescribing the regulatory outcome.
We genuinely hope that the PC will reconsider their proposed regulations, but it is unclear how they are supposed to somehow "unsee" the original Vision Statement that they so heavily relied upon throughout the drafting process. Any hopes of a good faith effort were further dimmed at the PC's regular monthly meeting last night. When Director Brown informed the PC members that they were to "ignore" the original vision statement they used to create the draft code, the PC members went directly into discussion of how soon the new STR hearing could be scheduled and how quickly it could be passed back to the BoCC. The new public hearing is now scheduled for September 9, but based on their perfunctory treatment, it is clear that they may not take the process violations seriously.
But we have news for them...
Upon learning of the County's response, our attorneys filed a letter to the BoCC and the PC that included evidence obtained recently from a public records request. We discovered several emails and background documents that unequivocally demonstrate that the County has a longstanding policy of allowing STRs without a permit. This evidence directly contradicts the assumption held by some PC members through the drafting process and the narratives spread by opposition groups like RUN that STRs should be considered "illegal". In fact, existing STR owners and operators have relied on such policy in the development and investment in their STRs to their detriment if the current proposed STR ordinance is adopted. As per counsel wrote in their letter to the BoCC and PC...
"We urge you to treat existing STRs as legal, non-conforming uses and grandfather in such existing STRs without any sunset clauses. While an appeal of whatever regulations the County adopts is likely due to the contentious nature of the STR issue, the County will very likely avoid further civil lawsuits for damages if existing STR uses are grandfathered in."
As you can see by their diligence, our attorneys are good—but they are also expensive. We need your financial support to continue our legal battle. The STRACC Board serves on a strictly voluntary basis. All of your donations go directly into our legal fund, minus a tiny portion for expense on Administrative expenses like our website and other digital tools. PLEASE DONATE NOW!
Last Tuesday (8/11), STRACC and three other plaintiffs filed a strategic lawsuit against Chelan County for violation of the Open Public Meetings Act pertaining to the workshops, hearings and deliberations for short term rental regulation.
The lawsuit alleges that the Board of County Commissioners and the Planning Commission violated the Open Public Meetings Act (“Act”) and Emergency Proclamations by Governor Inslee suspending certain portions of the Act. We are asking in this lawsuit that all actions of both the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners pertaining to short-term rentals are considered “null and void” with regard to the calendar year 2020 and that an injunction be put in force for the same. You may have seen the Wenatchee World article about our lawsuit.
As many of you know, at 4:40pm last Tuesday, shortly after we filed our lawsuit, the Board of Commissioners workshop on STRs set for 5:30 pm was abruptly canceled. The timing of the cancellation is interesting, to say the least. Theworkshop was rescheduled for tonight (8/18) at 6pm. Please attend and have your STRACC logo visible! Here is the usual Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/650411499
This is one of two lawsuits STRACC is planning. The second lawsuit pertains to grandfathering but cannot be enacted until the code is passed.
STRACC Members, these lawsuits take money. Our attorneys are good and thus expensive. We need to continue to support STRACC financially. As many of you are realizing, the proposed code affects you and your livelihood, retirement, property values, etc. Many of the proposed permits would be as high as $1500 a year, so we think a $500 to $1000 or more donation to help fund this lawsuit is well worth your investment. We need to raise $40,000 to continue this suit and any future suits. PLEASE DONATE NOW!
Many counties, cities and communities that have banned STRs are being overturned as a violation of property rights. The courts are beginning to respond in our favor. But again it is taking a court battle to win. And again that takes money. Every penny you donate to STRACC goes straight to fighting for your business and your STR. Stay tuned for more information on the lawsuit.
While our legal challenges are pending, please submit your public comments to the Commissioners at CD.STRComment@co.chelan.wa.us by this Friday Aug 21. Keep in mind that all previously submitted comments during the Planning Commission phase will be carried over into the BoCC record, so they Commissioners are asking the public to only submit new comments or concerns specifically related to the code being considered.
Tomorrow night (8/11), the BoCC will be holding its third and final workshop to review the latest draft STR code. The meeting will begin at 5:30pm via Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/650411499. We will send out a summary notes afterward for those unable to tune to see how the code is taking shape.
The BoCC has begun accepting public comments again. Keep in mind that all previously submitted comments during the Planning Commission phase will be carried over into the BoCC record, so they Commissioners are asking the public to only submit new comments or concerns specifically related to the code being considered.
We also wanted to let you know about a new Facebook group called Independent Home Sharing Operators of Chelan County. This is a good forum to connect with other STR owners and discuss the issues raised by these regulations. We encourage all STRACC members to join the group and unite. STRACC will be posting updates there as well.