Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island Residents Washington 0

Letter to County Council re Vacation Rentals

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Dear San Juan County Councilors:

We, the undersigned residents of San Juan County, request that you respect and hear our voices and honor the decision made in good faith by the Planning Commissioners on August 20th, 2021, to freeze the number of vacation rental (VR) permits at the current “Active and Compliant” number of 413, along with the associated island-specific caps.

The Need for VR Caps

Vacation rentals are high-traffic, high-turnover, public-facing business operations that enter uninvited into our residential neighborhoods. They hold undeniable power to transform a community forever. We need relief – guardrails – to protect our homes and neighborhoods from this power.

Active and Compliant

On August 20, 2021, SJC Planning Commissioners voted unanimously to support the will of the people and freeze vacation rental caps at the current “Active and Compliant” number of 413. They received hundreds of letters and petition signatures in support of this decision and heard from business owners and community members alike. Prior to the October 15 meeting, the Planning Commission received this petition, at that time signed by 575 verified SJC citizens suffering from the proliferation of vacation rentals.

The Reversal

At their September 17 and October 15 meetings, instead of honoring the August 20th decision, Planning Commissioners let down the greater San Juan County community by reversing themselves to increase the cap, gratuitously allowing 237 “Inactive” permit holders to be included in the permanent cap limit. This action, if allowed to stand, would increase VR permits by 57% and effectively lock in a level of disruption already deemed too high.

A Narrow Set of Findings

As part of this reversal, the Planning Commission elected to selectively uphold the “financial benefits” of vacation rentals – a 1% interest group – over and above the wishes and concerns expressed by the vast majority of island citizens. This is unacceptable.

Remedies

The San Juan Islands are facing monumental problems, including a failing ferry system and lack of affordable housing. Businesses are struggling to meet the demands of excess tourism. Housing and rental prices are skyrocketing and neighborhoods are being transformed by the proliferation of short term rentals. The Planning Commission and County Council have been sent a multitude of statistics and studies which illustrate the detrimental impact of vacation rentals on neighborhoods and small communities.

The role of the Planning Commission and County Council is to honor the integrity and greater needs of the community, not to cater to business lobbyists and second home owners. Please freeze the VR cap at 413 while associated problems are being studied.

Thank you from the residents of Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands.

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