Vacation rental moratorium in Eastsound requested

The Eastsound Planning Review Committee has an idea about how to solve the housing situation: cease permitting vacation rentals in the village core.

“There’s certainly alignment on EPRC that this is a good issue. This is a timely and important issue,” EPRC Co-chairman Paul Kamin said. “The expansion of vacation rentals is significant and impactful.”

The EPRC voted to request from the San Juan County Council a year-long moratorium on vacation rental permits in Eastsound during its regular meeting on May 2. Six members voted for the resolution while Kamin abstained.

“My preference would have been to do some more community engagement before the request of the moratorium,” Kamin said. “I feel we would have had a stronger case both with additional public support and with a little more data.”

EPRC is proposing that during the year-long period, it would hold public meetings with the council and department of community development to develop a solution to the long-term rental crisis. When the county council will review the request has not yet been decided.

The number of vacation rentals permitted within the Eastsound Water District grew from 40 in 2014 to 150 in 2019, according to the resolution. The document stated that 68 percent of housing growth in San Juan County has been for non-resident occupancy. A “substantial majority” of housing units in the Eastsound Urban Growth Area were converted into vacation rentals immediately following their construction, the resolution claimed.

“The lack of long term rentals and affordable housing on Orcas has already reached a crisis level that has affected the health and equity of our community and caused businesses to suffer a drastic shortage of employees,” the resolution said.

According to the Growth Management Act, the EPRC is responsible for expecting 50 percent of the projected island population growth to occur within the Eastsound UGA. The resolution stated that if the vacation rental permitting trend continues along the course it is currently on, “It would be impossible to fulfill the GMA’s requirements and maintain the socioeconomic diversity of our community.”