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!