Whatcom County and the New Sharing EconomyPermalink +
Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 1:25 am // Guest writer
This article is by guest writer Tani Sutley. Tani's family has owned property on the north shore of Lake Whatcom for over 60 years.
- - -
Home Rentals Take on New Meaning
Within the Lake Whatcom Watershed there are now fourteen vacation rental homes for transient accommodations. These homes, and almost one hundred others, are listed online as vacation rentals in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
We all accept having neighbors who purchase a home and live in it or rent it to someone who lives and works in the area. That’s normal for residential neighborhoods. It’s always been that way and we know the person who lives next door. Zoning rules for residential homes are easy enough to understand. Title 20 zoning definitions say one single-family dwelling is a residential unit for residents, not transients or visitors:
20.97.346 Residential unit. “Residential unit” means a family dwelling unit intended for long-term human habitation and occupancy by a resident family. (Ord. 87-12, 1987; Ord. 87-11, 1987).
20.97.347 Resident. “Resident” means one who lives and usually works in the vicinity; not a visitor or transient. (Ord. 87-12, 1987; Ord. 87-11, 1987).
For our family, and many others in Whatcom County who have expressed concern, we want the law to stay the way it is for single-family dwellings: residential.
Maybe, as a community we need vacation rentals somewhere to satisfy the wishes of travelers to live in a house as part of their vacation. However, if we allow them everywhere around the lake, regardless of the business intensification and cumulative impacts, we will have resort uses without the proper development standards required. All commercial developments require public water and sewer. Then there is the cost of the fecal bacteria and phosphorus removal from the lake we all will be paying for in taxes beginning next year. This should also concern all those taxpayers in the city of Bellingham. Further, accessory use does not require a permit and assumes the owner will limit home occupancy to the bedroom limit on their septic system and that their well water or water drawn from the lake is safe for public use. Then there is an issue of liability insurance. Most homeowner policies do not cover commercial activity in the home.
Amendments to Residential Zoning
Now Whatcom County planning staff is considering adding amendments to our existing laws that will change who is living next door. Under the zoning amendment proposal all residential neighborhoods and all of Lake Whatcom will include the commercial use of homes for transient and tourist uses with no permit required. Proposed staff amendments PLN2014-00020 will be reviewed on December 11, 2014. It includes vacation rentals for less than 30 days as accessory zoning, meaning customarily incidental to the main residential use. Examples of such a radical change of residential use are not to be found within the American Planning Association’s previous reviews of accessory uses. In fact, case law has assigned "customarily incidental" to mean a commonly, habitually, and by long practice as reasonably associated with the primary use. (Page 17-6.)
Non-owner occupied vacation rentals to transient guests does not appear to be customarily incidental. One example that fits the customary incidental definition is the occasional garage sale conducted at a home to sell unwanted items.
Why would the County Council and planning and development services think this is a good idea? It combines commercial uses of property with residential uses. It allows business operations supported by online credit card booking services but does not separate full time primary use from the restrictive accessory definition.
What is Incidental and Subordinate?
Lincoln City, Oregon (page 52) is of the opinion that accessory use limited to a 30 day rental per year for transients is minor and therefore incidental and subordinate based on the following case:
"In 1985, just a few years before the 1989 adoption of the VRD regulations, the Land Use Board of Appeals upheld the City of Beaverton’s interpretation of the terms “incidental and subordinate” in Leonetti Furniture Manufacturing Co. v. City of Beaverton, 13 or LUBA 59 (1985). Leonetti was selling his industrial property to Costco. Costco argued that their wholesale use was permitted in the Industrial zone and that their retail sales were allowed as an accessory use. Costco’s actual retail sales were about 40-49% of their wholesale sales. Costco argued the terms “incidental and subordinate” can only mean just less than one-half, and therefore their accessory retail use was allowed. Beaverton rejected this interpretation. Using the definition of the terms and the purposes of the zone, Beaverton found that accessory use was a use that was “extremely minor in nature compared to the main permitted use.” LUBA similarly turned to the purposes of the Code and acknowledged that Beaverton’s interpretation was reasonable and consistent with the City’s Development Code. Costco’s interpretation, that it could only mean “just less than one-half” was rejected."
For our neighborhood, the problems of having tourists renting homes for two or more days was first noticed on Lake Whatcom in 2013, when several homes became available full time as business operations. None of these owners told the neighbors about the new businesses they had started nor provided any mitigation for the impacts of such intense development of the property. All were occupied all summer and most of the fall with frequently changing renters.
Several homeowners spoke to the County Council about vacation rentals. At the time, some of the council members expressed concern about allowing vacation rentals in the Lake Whatcom Watershed, especially for those homes without public water and sewer. Some expressed concern about phosphorus and fecal bacteria.
The Department of Ecology has placed the Lake Whatcom reservoir on a watch list: "Lake Whatcom, the main source of drinking water for the city of Bellingham and other communities around the lake, is suffering from low levels of oxygen. The root cause of the problem: increased levels of phosphorous and fecal bacteria entering the lake."
Stormwater runoff from developed areas increases the amount of phosphorus entering the lake beyond natural, healthy levels. The excess phosphorus adds to the lake’s algae bloom problems, requiring more treatment to make the water safe for drinking. It also decreases the lake’s overall health.
Public Hearing Proposal for Vacation Rentals
A hearing was held on September 16, 2014 on regulation options for vacation rentals in the county. At the hearing five options were considered as Agenda Bill 2014-295.
1. Permitted outright as a single-family dwelling. Allow rentals of any duration in residential zones without conditions.
2. Permitted with performance standards. Allow vacation rentals as a permitted use in all rural and residential zones, subject to conditions.
3. Permitted in specified locations, with performance standards. Same as 2 but permitted only in certain zones or geographic areas.
4. Permitted with registration. Same as 2 or 3 but with licensing or registration requirements.
5. Prohibition. Vacation rentals are not permitted uses in any residential zones.
Previously expressed concerns for Lake Whatcom by council members did not result in excluding the shorelines of the lake or any location exclusion. The minutes record that the council members supported option two for vacation rentals in all rural and residential zones. Council members Ken Mann and Sam Crawford thought permitted use was unnecessary and accessory use was substituted. Lake Whatcom was not discussed although Council member Pete Kremen expressed “the use should not be allowed in the Lake Whatcom Watershed.” Planning Director Sam Ryan also expressed concern at the public hearing and said she “is more concerned about facilities that act more as hotels than as residences.” Council member Rud Brown expressed concern about the safety of the buildings.
Planning Work Session Scheduled for December 11, 2014
On December 11, 2014 at the Planning Commission office a work session is scheduled to begin reviewing the wishes of the council to allow vacation rentals everywhere. They will review the planning department's draft of PLN 2014-00020.
Agenda Bill 2014-295 and the planning department’s PLN 2014-00020 Vacation Rental Amendment do not address any special provisions for the protection of Lake Whatcom as a reservoir of public water. It assumes vacation rentals to tourists and transients are the same as rentals for over 30 days when multiple ordinances and supporting definitions have separated the two uses since Ordinance 1987-011 and for Bed and Breakfast since Ordinance 1985-055.
Planning Director Sam Ryan’s previously expressed concern that a home does not act as a hotel was not addressed.
Homeowners, under this proposal, who have a permitted accessory dwelling unit or apartment unit would be able to live in one while renting the other to transients or tourists. This change will completely ignore the purpose for which ADU permitting was established in the first place, which was to increase the available units for affordable housing. Many homes advertised in our area are over $500 per night. The profit motive is clear. Renting your home to tourists for four (4) nights will yield the same as renting your home for over a month to a resident as a reasonable and affordable monthly rent. Ordinance 1994-002 established accessory dwelling unit permits to increase affordable housing for residents of Whatcom County. This new ordinance proposal rejects that goal in favor of creating profits for owners and investors for transient rentals.
The New Sharing Economy
At the heart of all these changes is a nationwide movement to conduct business without getting the necessary permits, inspections, insurance and state environmental reviews. They call it “sharing” but most just call it illegal business activities. That fight is just beginning in Portland, Oregon with Uber, a ride share business model.
As with many of the “sharing community” business models now existing as publicly traded businesses, liability insurance was not discussed in the county proposal. Traditional homeowners insurance will not cover regular commercial activity in a home. In fact, commercial insurance costs are usually well over $2000 per year, if you can find an insurance company willing to insure a home for vacation rentals. The New York Times recently covered this issue in, A Liability Risk for Airbnb Hosts. "One thing came through loud and clear from the handful of companies that did not dodge my inquiries entirely: Most homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies do not cover regular commercial activity in the home."
It is my opinion that Transient Vacation Rentals do not belong in the watershed. Owners can continue to rent long term to residents, rent a home for the entire summer to one single family, or reside in the home themselves. Perhaps these uses are not as profitable as transient short-term rentals but they are non-the-less economically viable uses and they would not adversely affect the surrounding residential uses or present rural character of the watershed. Hotel uses should be confined to urban growth areas, resort commercial and the tourist commercial areas with proper permitting.
I urge those who live in residential neighborhoods and want to keep it that way to call Gary Davis at Planning and Development for information on the proposed changes or write to the Planning Commission with concerns.
Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 1:25 am // Guest writerTani Sutley writes of how unregulated vacation rentals are invading the Lake Whatcom watershed. She urges action before the Planning Commission meeting on 11 December.
3 comments; last on Dec 14, 2014
Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 1:57 pm // Terry Wechsleror How Not to Plan for Future Generations' Water Needs
12 comments; last on Jun 30, 2014
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
Fri, May 24, 2013, 12:18 am // Guest writerMarian Beddill provides a general guide for the public, with a look at the history of water rights in Washington state.
4 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 6:37 am // Guest writerGuest writer Shane Roth writes in favor of the reconveyance of Lake Whatcom land back to the county.
1 comments; last on Mar 11, 2013
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 1:52 am // Wendy HarrisImproving ecosystem functions holistically is the best form of protection for the Lake Whatcom.
1 comments; last on Jan 29, 2013
Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 1:35 pm // Wendy HarrisA proposed amendment to the Lake Whatcom watershed moratorium will increase water quality degradation
1 comments; last on Jan 12, 2013
Sun, Jan 06, 2013, 11:49 pm // Wendy HarrisWatch the Whatcom County Council wiggle its way out of the latest round of GMA compliance requirements for Lake Whatcom
1 comments; last on Jul 27, 2013
Tue, May 15, 2012, 6:32 pm // Wendy HarrisA City staff memo on the Bloedel dock closure reads more like an advocacy brief
Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 3:03 pm // Guest writerNo EIS - no real county planning concern about developing Squalicum Mountain and degrading Lake Whatcom water even further.
Mon, Nov 14, 2011, 11:07 am // Wendy HarrisProposed new storm water regulations will increase Lake Whatcom development. Hearing this Thursday.
1 comments; last on Nov 14, 2011
Sun, Nov 06, 2011, 10:48 pm // Wendy HarrisImportant events concerning the Lake occurred during the election with little comment from the public, the candidates or the media.
16 comments; last on Nov 10, 2011
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 12:23 pm // Guest writerSue Taylor guest writes this perspective on WCV and their alliance with the Dan Pike for mayor campaign.
16 comments; last on Oct 23, 2011
Fri, Jul 22, 2011, 6:35 am // Wendy HarrisA pro-active, extremely cost effective solution for protecting Lake Whatcom exists!
3 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Mon, Jul 18, 2011, 9:03 pm // Riley SweeneyThe Political Junkie interviews Christina Maginnis
4 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Mon, Feb 02, 2009, 7:57 am // g.h.kirschWhile it went almost unheralded Friday, Kremen & Co temporarily backed away from their earlier position that driving a road into the forest on Squalicum Mountain, to…
4 comments; last on Feb 03, 2009
Mon, Dec 29, 2008, 12:13 pm // g.h.kirschAt the risk of displeasing friend and foe alike, may I ask what has been accomplished this past year to fix Lake Whatcom and protect Bellingham's water supply?…
12 comments; last on Jan 02, 2009
Tue, Sep 30, 2008, 4:19 pm // g.h.kirschFrom the outset of discussion of the proposal to reconvey forest lands to the county for a new park I have written that it is necessary to first…
1 comments; last on Oct 01, 2008
Wed, Sep 17, 2008, 9:41 pm // Tom PratumThis past winter, during torrential rains to the South of us, there were some very serious slides on Weyerhaeuser land in Lewis County adjacent to Stillman Creek (a…
5 comments; last on Sep 20, 2008
Mon, Jun 30, 2008, 2:33 am // g.h.kirschNo matter how one hopes things will change, things remain the same. Bellingham wants the county to curb development in the watershed, but can't seem to stop allowing…
2 comments; last on Jul 05, 2008
Fri, Jun 27, 2008, 11:16 pm // Myron WlaznakI received a Notice of Complete Application for the construction of an impervious trail through the center of a parcel of forested land acquired with funds collected for…
5 comments; last on Jul 01, 2008
Fri, Jun 20, 2008, 11:26 am // Guest writerby Wendy Harris |
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. This is her second guest writer article - and follows…
Mon, Jun 16, 2008, 10:33 am // g.h.kirschWhile the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District races to expand its infrastructure to serve sprawling development on the north shore of the lake, the King County Superior…
2 comments; last on Jun 19, 2008
Sun, Jun 15, 2008, 12:17 pm // Guest writerBy Wendy Harris
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. She is an active citizen. Today she is our first guest writer.…
9 comments; last on Jul 31, 2008
Mon, May 26, 2008, 8:51 pm // g.h.kirschWhy all the hubbub about building moratoria in the Lake Whatcom watershed? You can't build or subdivide without adequate water, and the entire watershed is closed to new…
1 comments; last on Jun 01, 2008
Tue, May 20, 2008, 12:08 am // g.h.kirschAnother important step towards dealing with the pollution of Lake Whatcom was taken tonight. The mayor and city council have thrown down the gauntlet to Pete Kremen and…
14 comments; last on Jun 01, 2008
Fri, Apr 04, 2008, 10:42 am // Tom Pratum
In early February, I and several other folks met with Whatcom County Parks director Mike McFarlane to ask some questions about the proposed reconveyance of Forest Board…
3 comments; last on Sep 25, 2008
Sun, Sep 30, 2007, 9:03 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham Herald editorial today is excellent. It raises the basic questions about the newly proposed Lake Whatcom land reconveyance deal to make a park on the very…
Tue, Sep 25, 2007, 9:25 pm // John ServaisTom Pratum has some good information on the proposed - and still mostly secret - Lake Whatcom land reconveyance plan. He posted it on the North Cascades Audubon…
Sat, Sep 22, 2007, 9:40 pm // John ServaisThe October surprise is a week early. Today's Herald has the carefully managed news of the land swap that John Watts alerted us to on Sep 11 -…
Wed, Sep 12, 2007, 10:12 pm // John ServaisRather than answer several emails individually, this post will clarify a couple things. First, why is yesterday's post by John Watts that I praised any different from his…
Tue, Sep 11, 2007, 10:19 pm // John ServaisAn astounding post by John Watts this afternoon on his HamsterTalk website. He has what amounts to a prediction of an October Surprise - implying strongly that it…
Thu, Jun 03, 2004, 6:15 pm // John ServaisToday the Washington Department of Ecology released a report that says, basically, that mercury in the lake is less now than in the past. "Decreasing" is the operative…
Mon, May 24, 2004, 6:22 pm // John ServaisThe initiative is 'remove motor boats', not 'remove boats' from Lake Whatcom. Our Chamber of Commerce just lies in print to achieve their goal of defeating the initiative.
Fri, Feb 13, 2004, 7:48 pm // John ServaisWe see 1/100 of one part per billion or less of benzene to water during most of the year 2000 and into the spring of 2001. Then in…
Thu, Feb 12, 2004, 7:52 pm // John ServaisMotor boats off Lake Whatcom? What was that apology from City Senior Planner Chris Spens at the city council on Monday? El-bull-in-china-shop Chris got the word from el…
Mon, Feb 09, 2004, 7:57 pm // John ServaisWe have mercury contamination all over our county. That we know. Lake Whatcom and Bellingham Bay. Georgia Pacific's chlorine plant leaked mercury for about 35 years and neither…
Sun, Nov 23, 2003, 3:51 pm // John Servaisof some local developers is plain to see in this photo essay at the Lake Whatcom website. The WA Dept of Ecology has enforcement folks tooling around in…
Mon, Oct 13, 2003, 6:38 pm // John Servaistelling me they are voting for Brett Bonner for mayor. Some very prominent ones - but they are not going public. Why not? Fear of retaliation.
Why are they…
Wed, Oct 08, 2003, 6:51 pm // John ServaisThe two differed strongly on several issues. The differences between them are becoming more apparent and this should continue for the next two weeks.
Brett continues to develop his…
Sun, Oct 05, 2003, 7:12 pm // John ServaisWe need one to follow Asmundson during the next three weeks - and to nudge the Herald to do minimal checking of facts before publishing. I'm referring to…
Tue, Sep 30, 2003, 5:55 pm // John ServaisThe first of three Bellingham Herald Election Forums is taking place this evening at the County Council chambers.
The forums are being broadcast live on KGMI radio, 790 AM.…
Wed, Jun 25, 2003, 5:07 pm // John ServaisPosted here because the Bellingham Herald has now ignored this for two days. Of very high importance to Bellingham - and with significant developments.
On Monday evening, the Bellingham…
Fri, Jun 13, 2003, 12:20 pm // John ServaisSt. Joe's Hospital will probably be facing fines for venting toxic gas into the construction area of their new addition. Our Bellingham Herald has not reported a bit…
Tue, May 13, 2003, 6:00 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham City Council last night voted 5-2 to support the Clean Water Alliance legal action against Whatcom County's designation of Sudden Valley as an Urban Growth Area…
Mon, May 12, 2003, 3:15 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham City Council will finally hold its very first public hearing of the Public Facilities District (PFD) proposals next Monday, May 19, 7 pm at city hall.…
Election InfoCounty election results
State election results
Coal, Oil & Trains
Community Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Port of Bellingham
State election results
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph