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Jeb Bladine: City talks coming on vacation rentals

When Charles Hillestad first warned fellow McMinnville planning commissioners about the proliferation of vacation home rentals, he spoke from personal experience. Hillestad moved here from Cannon Beach, a town of 1,700 people and — as reported last year — 110 vacation home rentals.

McMinnville has about 50 vacation homes permits registered with the city. However, online listing services advertise half-again that number, perhaps more. That alone is reason for the city to review the local situation, a process begun by planning staff last month and headed toward a planning commission work session this month or next.

McMinnville started regulating vacation homes in 2008 with a 660-foot buffer between the rental businesses and a required planning commission hearing. In 2012, when the buffer policy prevented approval of a new application, McMinnville ignored suggestions for a reduced buffer and jettisoned that policy altogether. At the time, McMinnville had only five vacation home rentals.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Applications multiplied, and in 2014 the city transferred approval authority to the planning director, with public hearings required only for appeals. There were few concerns and, except for Hillestad and city Councilor Kevin Jeffries, no city opposition to that policy change.

In 2011, one planning report praised vacation homes as a neighborhood asset: “The property must consistently be well-maintained in order to support a successful business, and by doing so, the property becomes an asset to the neighborhood.”

Last week, two News-Register letter-writers expressed a flip side to that sentiment:

“My concern,” wrote one reader, “is when affordable smaller homes become short-term rentals, it creates a hole in the fabric of a neighborhood … (The city) prides itself as a cohesive community with a small-town atmosphere. When you allow too many of these vacation rentals in a defined area, that small-town atmosphere is gone.”

Another reader added: “We are zoned residential. Vacation rentals are not residential. They are a business … Renting and buying both become very challenging when so many homes are being turned into businesses — vacation rentals.”

McMinnville has a shortage of affordable rental housing, and one contributor to that situation is the conversion of single-family residences into vacation home rentals. Now, the issue of neighborhood integrity adds another angle to city consideration of vacation home policies.

City planning staff will compile information about McMinnville’s circumstances and review vacation home policies in other Oregon communities. Look for a spirited city planning session and continuing debate — a community discussion Charles Hillestad and others have been expecting for years.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com and at 503-687-1223.

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