Vacation rental blues sweep San Juan, Lopez

Submitted by the Vacation Rental Working Group.

The Orcas-based Vacation Rental Working Group hosted February discussions on San Juan and Lopez islands that were brimming with community spirit tempered with a “pound or two” of angst over the proliferation of short-term rentals in San Juan County.

“People brought us their concerns and tested ideas for change,” said Yonatan Aldort, chairman of the VRWG. “But most of all, they brought us their stories – some frightening, some almost funny – but all sharing the common threads that stitch together a vision of a digital-age property management innovation gone rogue. The county council seems preoccupied with counting permits. But the numbers are only part of the problem. Frankly, it’s not about the number, it’s about the pain.”

Aldort’s views were echoed by others on the committee and among the attendees who noted frustration over the slowness with which the county councilmembers seem to be approaching the issue.

“People are lining up to tell us about once-quiet neighborhoods overwhelmed by noise and disruption, water and septic systems stressed to the limits, and a seeming disregard for the qualities we have come to love about life on these beautiful islands,” said Mark Meyer. “Now it is March, and the council has done nothing.”

The VRWG has presented the county with an initial proposal including specific language for regulatory relief. To read the letter, visit https://bit.ly/2xf9bH7. In 2019, both of the county’s Eastsound and Deer Harbor advisory panels, together with the hundreds of islanders who attended the VRWG’s three community conversations, requested a designated moratorium on new vacation rental permits. Such a moratorium would serve only to buy time for consideration of substantive reforms, but thus far the county has failed to act.

The VRWG’s petition in support of the moratorium has more than 2,600 signatures. The VRWG is an all-volunteer organization that formed in June 2019 shortly after the Eastsound and Deer Harbor Planning and Review Committees forwarded moratorium recommendations to the San Juan County Council. For more info and a link to the petition for a moratorium, see https://www.vacationrentalsorcas.org/.