County Council caps vacation rental permits on San Juan Island at 337

Posted May 17, 2022 at 9:50 pm by

On Tues­day, more than 16 months after enact­ing a mora­to­ri­um on new vaca­tion rental per­mits, the San Juan Coun­ty Coun­cil put into place a long-term cap on the num­ber of per­mits allowed with­in the county.

Under the amend­ed ordi­nance passed unan­i­mous­ly by the Coun­cil, San Juan Island will be allot­ted 337 per­mits, with 211 for Orcas Island, 135 for Lopez Island, and 10 for the out­er islands — exclud­ing Shaw and Wal­dron islands, both of which are sub­ject to exist­ing ordi­nances that dis­al­low vaca­tion rentals. That equals a coun­ty-wide cap of 693 permits.

The final per­mit cap num­ber for San Juan Island match­es the num­ber of exist­ing per­mits that had been issued as of Fri­day, May 6. It reflects a com­pro­mise between the rec­om­men­da­tions pro­posed by the Coun­ty Plan­ning Com­mis­sion ear­li­er this year and the guid­ance that the Coun­cil orig­i­nal­ly pro­vid­ed to the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion in June 2021.

“I believe that I live on an island that does not feel the impact [of vaca­tion rentals] in the same way that Orcas does,” said Coun­cilmem­ber Chris­tine Min­ney of San Juan Island, who pro­posed the 337-per­mit lim­it for San Juan. “How­ev­er, with­out a doubt, there are many peo­ple who are also in sup­port of not allow­ing vaca­tion rentals to con­tin­ue unchecked into the future.”

The Coun­cil’s orig­i­nal guid­ance had called for more than 1,100 per­mits, includ­ing rough­ly 500 per­mits each on San Juan and Orcas. In con­trast, the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion had rec­om­mend­ed a coun­ty-wide cap of 650 per­mits, with 229 allot­ted to San Juan Island, 334 for Orcas Island, 85 for Lopez Island, and two for the out­er islands. Those num­bers matched the num­ber of com­pli­ant per­mits as of July 31, 2021 – the last day of the month that the Com­mis­sion began dis­cussing the issue of per­mit caps.

Coun­cilmem­ber Cindy Wolf of Orcas Island opt­ed for an even more restric­tive approach in propos­ing a cap of 211 per­mits for Orcas, cit­ing the num­ber of con­stituents who advo­cat­ed for a lim­it that reflects the num­ber of exist­ing per­mits that are both com­pli­ant and active­ly in use.

“It’s more equi­table, in terms of the islands right now,” Wolf explained. “334 on Orcas still [would have put] the brunt of vaca­tion rentals on Orcas in pro­por­tion to the hous­ing stock, as com­pared to San Juan Island.”

Coun­cilmem­ber Jamie Stephens of Lopez Island took an oppo­site approach, propos­ing a 135-per­mit lim­it – rough­ly 12 per­cent more than the num­ber of exist­ing per­mits that had been issued as of May 6.

“Lis­ten­ing to the dif­fer­ent tes­ti­mo­ny and a lot of meet­ings on Lopez, I think it’s worth point­ing out – and it got point­ed out a lot today – that peo­ple who have vaca­tion rentals do so for a vari­ety of rea­sons,” Stephens said. “It’s not all just a mon­ey grab. Peo­ple are doing it so they can keep liv­ing here, so they can keep a house in their fam­i­ly – and I’ve been tak­ing that into account.”

The new per­mit lim­its take effect June 1. They do not apply to homes locat­ed on prop­er­ties with mas­ter planned resort zon­ing, includ­ing those with­in Roche Har­bor Resort.

Going for­ward, new vaca­tion rental per­mits will be issued using a lot­tery sys­tem. The Coun­cil will approve the spe­cif­ic lot­tery pro­ce­dures at a future meeting.

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