Council to hold vacation rental moratorium public hearing

San Juan County Council will hold a public hearing to consider the extension of its active vacation rental moratorium.

During its regular meeting on June 28, the council unanimously agreed to hold a public hearing at 9:15 a.m. on July 12 to approve an extension of the moratorium and the Department of Community Development’s work plan. The moratorium is set to conclude at 12 a.m. on July 13.

“If after this we decide to do something different, we can do it and move forward from there,” council chair Jamie Stephens said.

At the June 28 meeting, DCD Director Erika Shook updated the council on the total number of permitted vacation rentals in San Juan County. As of the meeting, there were a total of 1,020 active permitted rentals — 130 on Lopez; 491 on Orcas; and 385 on San Juan, which does not include Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor.

Cindy Wolf, who represents Orcas on the county council, noticed three newly approved rental units in the Rural Residential land-use area of Orcas and expressed her concern.

“Watching that continue to accrue over the course of a year — until January 2022 — I just think it’s long to leave that going,” Wolf said. “I think there’s damage that will happen in that six months that will not be reversible.”

Wolf later stated the vacation rental situation on Orcas is reaching critical mass.

“We can’t find workers right now for our businesses because they have no place to live,” she said.

Recognizing that vacation rentals aren’t as big of a problem in some places of the islands, the San Juan County Council amended its moratorium to limit its scope. On March 9, the council resumed its public hearing on the vacation rental moratorium adopted on Jan. 12. The moratorium was altered to cover the urban growth areas of Lopez and Orcas as well as the hamlets of Orcas Island for six months. Additionally, the focus of the moratorium work plan is to pursue a cap on the number of vacation rentals allowed in the islands.