Tani Sutley continues to inform us on the county vacation rentals processes and Ken Mann’s misinformation to the council.
Recently, the Whatcom County Council voted to add short-term rentals to all the shorelines of Whatcom County by defining them as residential use. Basically, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts will now be listed along with normal residential uses such as single-family and multifamily dwellings, condominiums, and mobile home parks.
With this vote, Planning and Development has created a path for short-term rentals to be considered the same as long-term rentals. The goal, as stated at this meeting, was to make shoreline zoning consistent with allowing residential units to be converted into vacation rentals. This will allow conversions of existing housing into tourist housing, making both equal in the eyes of county laws.
Following a vote by the full council, the amendment will be sent to the Department of Ecology for approval, which is expected to take about six months.
During the meeting, Whatcom County Councilor Ken Mann announced that he rents his house through Airbnb when he is out of town. Since he lives within the city limits, he said there was no conflict of interest and was then allowed to vote by the other council members. He also said he did not believe that short-term rentals are illegal in Bellingham, but he didn’t know. I confirmed his rental is listed for $350.00 per night on Airbnb.
The City of Bellingham only mentions “transient use” in residential neighborhoods for bed and breakfasts as a conditional-use permit in residential zoning:
“Bed and breakfast facilities” means a single-family residence with not more than two rooms let as transient housing. For the purpose of this section, a transient shall be defined as a person who stays for a period not to exceed two weeks. Accommodations may include limited food service for guests.” (Municipal Code 20.08.020)
From my conversations with the Bellingham planning department, vacation rentals cannot be permitted as bed and breakfast facilities, and the Hearing Examiner ruled in 2008, “This regulation has been interpreted to require that the operator of the Bed and Breakfast must reside on the premises. Rentals of single-family residences must be for a term of at lease one month. Short-term rentals of single-family homes are not allowed. A change in the zoning code would be required to allow short term rentals.”
Why does this matter?
In this case, a County Council member told committee members that short-term rentals in residential Bellingham neighborhoods is an allowed use, without the council member checking the zoning in his neighborhood.
His discussion of his rental policies introduced bias and misrepresented facts to the County Council. If, for instance, he had talked of trying to rent his home short-term, discussing it with city planners, and being told it was not allowed, that would have influenced the council quite differently.
I presented my concerns to Mr. Mann and initially he disagreed but has decided to check with the city. As a city resident, Mr. Mann should have done what every resident would be expected to do when starting a business in a residential neighborhood: check the zoning for business use and get a permit if one is required. If it is not allowed, lobby for a change. or abide by the rules.
The issues for our county shorelines are still being reviewed. It is hard to imagine county residents being able to compete for long-term rental housing when conversions to short-term rentals can easily replace existing units. That looks to be our future since our council thinks this is a good idea. The vote to introduce the resolution was 7-0.