San Juan County installs caps for vacation rentals

San Juan County installs caps for vacation rentals

County Council adopts island-by-island proliferation limits

Submitted by Toby Cooper.

San Juan County, like many of the country’s top tourist destinations, has imposed legal limits on short-term “vacation rental” accommodations widely available through online booking.

The county council voted unanimously (3-0) on May 17 to introduce caps on short-term vacation rentals after several years of intense public debate. Council and the County Planning Commission have collectively held seven public hearings on the matter since 2019 and have compiled a massive public comment package on the matter.

“We are pleased that the Council has finally resolved the issue after so many months of heated discussions,” said Yonatan Aldort, founder of the all-volunteer Vacation Rental Working Group (VRWG). “Everyone in our island community has had their say and now it’s time to move on.”

Vacation rental caps in San Juan County reflect tighter regulations on short-term vacation rentals in many other parts of the United States and around the world. Places as diverse as Amsterdam, Lake Tahoe, Hawaii and Carmel have tightened regulations in recent years to protect local communities.

Virtual realities gained popularity after Airbnb launched its website in 2009. Today, Airbnb alone sponsors more than seven million listings worldwide in more than 100,000 cities in 220 countries and regions. Other vacation rental platforms, such as VRBO, have further expanded tourism into communities unprepared for its negative impacts.

“This Council decision sets a path forward that enables tourism in the digital age and still protects the interests of all Island residents,” Aldort said. “So far, it’s been painful to see many previously quiet residential areas transformed into something fundamentally undesirable and quite different from what county residents chose when they chose to live here.”

County Council member Cindy Wolf has led efforts to limit short-term vacation rentals.

“Cindy was firm, diplomatic, fair and informed,” said VRWG committee member Diane Berreth. “His tireless efforts to consider all points and viewpoints led to the unanimous decision.”

Councilman Wolf said at the end of the county council’s seven-hour meeting on Tuesday: ‘It was a campaign promise. The community spoke, and we delivered.

The scale and scope of the short-term vacation rental trend presents a daunting picture to many.

In part due to the cosmopolitan nature of the virtual reality market, ownership of virtual reality properties in San Juan County has become dominated by out-of-county entities and corporations.

Lopezians Chom and Chris Greacen scoured the county database line by line and found that more than 50% of RVs countywide and 82% of RV properties on Lopez are registered to out-of-county addresses.

“We were surprised to learn how many VR properties on Lopez are in non-resident hands, and that half of all VR property sales on Lopez over the past two years were to corporate entities,” said Chom said. “We now know that the lion’s share of the economic benefits brought by RVs are simply exported to off-island bank accounts, while local residents grapple with the impacts.”

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