County Council caps vacation rental permits on San Juan Island at 337
Posted May 17, 2022 at 9:50 pm by Jeff Arnim
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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