Tourist homes: Part of the plan or a privilege for some?

My property and tourist home application have been in the news recently. I hope the board of supervisors (BoS) will take notice, and fix what is clearly a discriminatory zoning ordinance and flawed permitting process. In line with its comprehensive plan, this county should encourage tourist homes and property owners who want to contribute to the community through taxes, increased local employment, and by attracting tourists who support local businesses.

In my case, I applied in good faith for a special use permit based on the published county code. I agreed to conditions that went far and beyond those imposed on other tourist homes. I reached out to my closest neighbors to address any concerns they might have. Did I meet everyone along my road? No. This was a permit application, not a public election. However, the way the county manages this process it is easy to confuse the two.

My neighbors living closest to me, who are the most affected by what happens on my property, didn’t oppose my application. However, a small group of neighbors living further away complained about the presence of people unfamiliar with the area, road safety and increased traffic. I find this rather odd, since the road we share is a state road — anybody can drive it at any time. A public school bus passes by twice daily during the school year, so clearly the road is safe enough to transport children. Even more curious, I heard one road safety complaint from a neighbor who participates in the farm tour, and who boasted last year about attracting 200-plus visitors over one weekend. I wish her success again this year. That said, my tourist home would attract fewer visitors over eight months. It is unclear to me how farm tour visitors don’t present a road safety risk, but somehow tourist home visitors do.

To their credit, the planning commission agreed that my application met the requirements of the county code and recommended my application by a vote of 4-1.

However, before my BZA hearing the county attorney offered an opinion declaring existing acreage requirements for tourist homes invalid. This issue is now pending before the BOS. In October 2016, I publicly questioned minimum acreage requirements for short-term rentals. What is the reason exactly? Where are all these ‘problem’ tourist homes on lots of less than 10 acres? To limit the universe of eligible properties when the county is actively courting tourism defies logic. To deny one group of property owners economic opportunities given to another for no good reason is discriminatory and, given this county’s relatively high level of poverty and income inequality, seems particularly wrong.

Yet, I have watched the BZA and BOS repeatedly approve permits for larger landowners who want to generate tourist income (from tourist homes, weddings and other events) for a variety of reasons – to offset the unprofitability of farming, to avoid selling off land, to help cover medical bills. It would appear that the needs and desires of some property owners are more important than others in this county.

I urge the BOS to look closely and reasonably at the special use permitting process and this zoning ordinance, and allow tourist homes from a wider range of the community. There are clear and standard conditions that can be applied across all properties to mitigate concerns and improve a process that is now arguably open to manipulation. At present it more closely resembles a popularity contest than an objective evaluation of standards and qualifications.

Of course, people should be given the opportunity to voice concerns to encourage thoughtful dialogue about conditions that might be necessary for specific properties. But decisions regarding zoning and property rights should be based on the published code, and facts and evidence. They should not be based on property size, and certainly not on unsubstantiated fears, speculation, general dislikes, an aversion to change, or a long list of what if’s. This county should serve the interests of all property owners. At the moment, it doesn’t.

Heidi Dodd
Washington

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1 Comment

  1. Ms Dodd, I don’t know you nor how long you have lived in the county. But I learned back in the 70’s that those with money make the rules to suit themselves and maintain status quo. And even though there have been a few (very few) small positive changes, nothing really has changed over the last 40 plus years. I wish you good luck in your attempt.

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