Public input wanted at short-term rentals forum Oct. 17


October 11, 2023

The status of short-term rentals in La Conner tops the agenda of a special 6 p.m. Oct. 17 public forum at the La Conner Civic Garden Club.

“It will be a specific and targeted meeting,” Town Assistant Planner Ajah Eills said at the planning commission’s meeting Oct. 3 in Maple Hall.

The meeting addressing short-term rentals will not be hybrid since there is no WiFi service at the Second Street building.

“We think it will be more of a conversational setting,” Eills said. “We’re hoping for a more intimate conversation.”

The question of whether to change restrictions in residential zones here governing short-term rentals surfaced last year but was postponed to 2023 to foster greater dialogue on a subject being discussed nationally, especially in communities such as La Conner for which permanent housing options are limited.

Planning Director Michael Davolio said the issue requires study from top to bottom.

“We need to have a definition of what a short-term rental is,” he explained. “We don’t have it in our code. We can’t regulate what we can’t define.”

The Town’s municipal code,15.10.503, defines guesthouse or guest rental: “‘Guesthouse’ or ‘guest rental’ means a commercial use of a single-family dwelling unit, residential unit or boat rented on a daily or weekly basis (i.e., less than monthly rental).”

At the forum planning commissioners will be seated at separate tables to encourage more casual conversation.

Housing is likewise the focal point of an Oct. 19 planning commission road trip to Langley, on south Whidbey Island, where members and others interested in attending will meet with architect Ross Chapin, whose specialty is designing affordable homes. File a written request with planning staff for a seat on the 12-seat passenger van.

At their hour-long meeting, commissioners resumed reviewing comprehensive plan’s transportation element and opportunities for greater public participation.

Commissioners John Leaver and Bruce Bradburn, the transportation subcommittee, reported on firms that provide paid parking services.

Davolio said he would schedule a joint planning commission -town council meeting to hear formal presentations from the businesses Leaver and Bradburn contacted.

The commission revisited the idea of extending First Street south to Caledonia Street, which would open Maple Avenue as an exit from downtown.

The long vacant, former Moore Clark warehouse extending onto the public right-of-way has to be resolved.

“The building has to come down at some point,” said Davolio. “It’s unsafe.”

Davolio reminded commissioners that a planning grant includes a consultant to map the south end below town hall, a step toward developing a future uses plan.

To increase public input, Eills is researching installing a feedback section on the Town website.

“It’s something I’ve looked into since I’ve been here,” she said.

Commissioner Summer Holt suggested a new technology, such as a digital platform that engages the public, to close what she termed “the feedback loop.”

Commissioner Marna Hanneman noted how residents interact: “People here,” she pointed out, “prefer face-to-face communication.”

Davolio said the Town has undertaken extraordinary efforts at community outreach, seeking input from senior citizens, students and school district officials, Port of Skagit and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community representatives, and business leaders.

The La Conner Swinomish Library has applied for the designation of an essential public facility. It is the only comprehensive plan update request.

“The reason the library has asked for this,” said Hanneman, “is that it might open up some grant awards for them.”

Action on the library request and designating Maple Hall, also, is anticipated in November.


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