After listening to more than three hours of public testimony on Tuesday, May 17, the San Juan County Board unanimously voted on island-specific caps for vacation rentals. Orcas is capped at 211, San Juan at 337, Lopez at 135 and the Outer Islands at 10. The new limits will take effect ten days after the ordinance is passed.
“I heard San Juan Island loud and clear, and I heard Orcas loud and clear,” council member Cindy Wolf told her colleagues as they deliberated. Orcas Island commentators strongly supported a cap, citing safety concerns, water issues and impacts on affordable housing. San Juan Island commentators cited economic reasons for keeping vacation rentals a viable source of income, with many saying they saw no evidence that short-term rentals had a significant impact, particularly on affordable housing.
“The prices are unclear,” said Aaron Ansich of San Juan Island, explaining that comparing long-term rentals to short-term rentals is like apples and oranges. People often can’t make the money to cover mortgages with long-term rentals, and Audrey Dulcen, also of San Juan Island, noted that Washington state doesn’t have much recourse. if a landlord ends up with a bad tenant. “I think this will end up hurting more people than it will help,” Dulcen said.
To alleviate security concerns or water issues that others had raised, those against rent caps suggested that these issues could be addressed through landlord associations or other local means.
“”I use a local property management company to make sure tenants understand water use, road safety, etc. “, said Paula Trust. Trust currently lives in Edmonds, she said, but has a house in San Juan, where she and her husband have lived for several years. So far, she has not received complaints from neighbors and also tried to accommodate their needs.
Not everyone on San Juan Island objected to limiting vacation rentals.
Juniper Maas, owner of Juniper Lane Guest House, a boutique inn and cabin, expressed support for the order.
“There are a lot of nuances and there should be caveats to revisiting the issue,” she said. Maas noted that while 10 homes converted to short-term rentals means individuals are out of a long-term rental, it does have an impact. Having both a hostel and a vacation rental, she said the regulations were much stricter for the hostel than for her cabin. Mass also pointed to studies where unlimited tourism destroyed rural towns. “It makes me sad that something I’ve worked so hard for for 20 years could be part of the problem.”
Orcas Island has the most vacation rentals in the county, with 334 complaint rentals. San Juan currently has 224, Lopez has 85 and there are three compliant rentals on the outer islands.
The high number and rural locations of RVs led Orcas Islanders to ask the council to impose limits on them, Wolf said, explaining the reasoning behind the choice of 211, a number far below the current number of compliant RVs. on Orcas.
“It’s not all a cash grab,” said Lopez Island board member Jamie Stephens. “People do this for a variety of reasons.” Stephens explained that he wanted space to increase the number, and 135 provided that space. Stephens also said he felt it was important that the order be reviewed in five years. Wolf and Christine Minney of San Juan Island agreed and the language was added.
“I am extremely grateful for the contribution,” Minney said. “I believe I live on an island that doesn’t feel impacts like Orcas does. But, many don’t want RVs unchecked. Therefore, I’m setting the limit at 337.”
Outer Islands have been set to 10.
“Stuart has one and Decatur has two compliant,” said San Juan County Community Development Manager Dave Williams.
After reviewing the findings of the order and adding a section that removes the moratorium once the order takes effect, the order was approved.
Urban planner Sophia Cassam also paid tribute.
“She has worked tirelessly on this issue,” said David Williams, director of community development for San Juan.
Minney also thanked Cassam for his work and reflected on the information the council members had acquired.
“We learned about our communities individually and more holistically,” Minney said.