Tighter restrictions on the location and operation of short-term rentals in Sisters made it through the Sisters Planning Commission last week.

Proposed Development Code amendments related to short-term rentals (STR) were passed on to the City Council for a public hearing tentatively set for November 14, with a 6-1 vote by the Planning Commission at their meeting last week.

The sole dissenter was vice-chairman Jeff Seymour, who stated he is opposed to any spacing requirements between properties, as the 250-foot buffer between STR units inhibits an individual's right to use their private property as they wish.

Seymour warned the other commissioners, "If we proceed on this, it will come back on the City."

Commissioner Daryl Tewalt said he agreed with Seymour but did vote in favor of passing the amendment onto the Council.

"I agree," Tewalt said, "but we're going to have to go down that road."

The existing Development Code section dealing with vacation rentals would be completely replaced, including a number of modifications. Terminology would change from vacation rentals to short-term rentals. The property owner would be required to obtain an STR operator license and an STR permit for each unit they own. STR regulations apply to all residential units, including those located in a commercial district.

The noticing of neighbors requirement would be removed, with the ability to appeal to the Planning Commission and possibly to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

A major feature of the amendment is the establishment of concentration limits. New STRs would be prohibited from locating within 250 feet of an existing STR. Condominiums would be exempt from the concentration limits.

For new STRs established on or after the effective date of the proposed ordinance, the land-use permit and operator license are specific to the owner of the property and are not transferable when properties are sold.

Purchasers of an existing STR that was established prior to the effective date of the proposed ordinance must submit a complete application for an STR operator license within 60 days of property transfer in order to maintain the existing use. If an existing owner doesn't apply within 60 days of the new ordinance taking affect, the use will be abandoned.

There have been multiple opportunities for public input regarding STRs as the Planning Commission held nine workshops and two public hearings over 2017-18 to review the proposed text amendments and receive public input. Additionally, the City Council held four workshops in 2018, which were open to the public, and a public hearing in June 2018 at which time public comments were received.

City staff explained that the proposed regulations allow for economic use of residential properties while providing parameters, including spacing, to balance potential impacts to the residential character and livability in the residential zones.

The only person to testify at the hearing was Tyler Nice, government affairs manager for Central Oregon Association of Realtors, who spoke against the non-transferability clause and the 250-foot spacing requirement. He suggested, given the size of Sisters and the typical lot size, that perhaps a 160-foot buffer would be more appropriate. He also suggested the regulations be re-examined in a year to assess the impact and if the City's goals are being reached. Nice also encouraged an education process for property owners.

Senior planner BreAnne McConkie explained a 150-foot buffer had been examined, but it allowed for more units than the original proposed eight percent cap. She reported the staff is already thinking about an education process.

Commissioners agreed that reviewing the results in two years would be appropriate.