Probably the most heated debate in Bend right now is how to manage short-term vacation rentals, like Airbnb. Should the city do more than rubberstamp permits to rent out homes? Should the city reign in the number allowed? Should there be increased fees and oversight? And, more broadly, what does all this mean about the soul of our city? Are we going to become a high-priced tourist town, or we will pull up the drawbridge and preserve our quaint small town living?
Smack in the middle of that debate is City Council, which is alternately being called on to tighten regulations, or to live-and-let-rent. The issue has taken center stage over the past several weeks, with hours of public testimony. But after weeks of public venting, councilmember Doug Knight stepped up at the Sept. 17 City Council meeting to attempt to pass a motion instructing the city to increase regulations and treat vacation rental applications as a so-called Type 2 conditional use permit, a more stringent application process.
While we applaud Knight for the effort for some sort of action, the rest of City Council andCity staff wisely stepped in and asked for a more robust and diligent discussion about the issue, ultimately determining that they will craft a policy over the next six months.
Said best, Mark Capell remarked, "I'm thrilled with this approach. I feel really uncomfortable when we consider making long-term decisions as a knee-jerk reaction to passion."
We agree. Kudos to City Council for not treating the topic like a hot potato, but actually holding on to the issue, and dedicating the necessary time, resources and consideration to vet the various ideas and options. And, at the same time, kudos to City Council for setting a timeline so that the decision-making process doesn't drag on forever; such definitiveness has not been the calling card for the seven-member council, with topics like the future of Mirror Pond meandering for years. On that issue—whether the City of Bend, or Park & Recreation, should plow funds into maintaining the Newport Avenue Dam and preserve the iconic water feature, or should simply restore the river to its natural flow—the matter has moved about as fast as a puddle on a winter day, in part because elected officials seem unwilling to take a stand on one side of the fence when the city's population seems to be equally divided.
Likewise, the question about increasing regulation of short-term vacation rentals has split opinions in town, with some residents complaining that an unfettered rental market is changing the neighborhood feeling of, well, neighborhoods; while others argue that short-term vacation rentals are a means to making ends meet and also open up a more neighborhood feeling to the hospitality market here.
Mayor Jim Clinton weighed in to the debate and explained: "We're stuck with our own opinions here versus the legal advice, and we know how that works."
Over the next few months—until March—City staff and councilmembers will consider various options, and weigh what is lost and what is gained, looking into options like establishing a hotline to help enforce regulations and crafting "good neighbor" policies, and what is the trade-off for additional transient room tax revenues.
A year ago, Ashland rushed into this very same debate and quickly banned any personal rentals fewer than 30 days, an opinion largely pushed by the hotels in that town. That ruling has proven to be rash, frustrating homeowners looking for a little extra cash to pay their mortgages and also pushing thousands of tourism dollars and taxes to outlying cities to avoid the quasi-ban, ultimately creating a stubborn model that cannot be responsive or fluid with the changing nature of rental markets and economies. Bend has an opportunity for a more nuanced and informed policy. We look forward to the process—and, ultimately, to the decision in March.