Growth management board comes out against Chelan County on vacation rental rules, but lets them stand

OLYMPIA — Short-term rental codes passed by Chelan County last summer need to be reviewed because the county passed them without proper public notice.

Short-term rental rules remain in effect, but Chelan County now has until September 26 to meet public notice requirements.

The Washington Growth Management Board today ruled that when writing the code, the county misinterpreted a substantial change in the text as a “scribe’s error.” The change required existing holiday home operators to comply with occupancy, noise, insurance and other rules immediately, rather than giving them a grace period of up to a year.

The council now says the change was significant enough to require public notice and comment, before county commissioners voted to pass the ordinance last summer.

Chelan County Commissioners Bob Bugert, Doug England and Tiffany Gering voted on the new rules in July 2021, after a multi-year process to address the boom in short-term vacation rentals across the unincorporated county. In the adopted language, existing short-term rentals were ordered to comply with most aspects of the new codes within a year.

After that vote, the county announced a Sept. 7 hearing to correct what it called a scrivener error — a minor drafting error. But the corrected wording, voted on after that hearing, had the effect of removing the one-year grace period for all but two requirements: proper parking and signage.

“A county may not adopt language that alters the effect of a resolution in the name of a scrivener’s error,” the hearing panel wrote in its decision. “It defeats the whole purpose of correcting minor typographical errors. … By changing the wording of the provision from one-year compliance to immediate compliance, the effect of the STR resolution has changed significantly.

The decision stems from an appeal filed by approximately 60 short-term rental operators with properties in Chelan County, under the name Community Lodging Operators of Chelan County. The group argued that county commissioners breached six elements of the Growth Management Act when they created and passed the new ordinances.

The hearing panel’s decision found in favor of the county in five of those alleged violations, including allegations that the county failed to promote the retention and expansion of existing businesses; ignored the demands of its own comprehensive county-wide development plan; and did not recognize the property rights of the owners.

The Growth Management Hearing Board also denied the petitioners’ request to strike down the short-term rental code altogether, meaning it remains county law.

“Although the county erroneously characterized an amendment as a scribe’s error, this is not sufficient to conclude that the entire STR resolution is invalid,” the decision reads. “The Board finds and concludes that the County has not materially interfered with the achievement of the GMA’s objectives…”

The Chelan County Community Development Department said today it has granted 657 provisional permits to short-term operators so far, with a dozen more applications pending. The new code also imposes a cap on the number of homes allowed to operate as vacation rentals, based on 6% of the total housing stock. The Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee and Plains areas all hit that ceiling, as did the urban growth area around Peshastin.

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