Golf course, Airbnb top residents' concerns
Lake Oswego's City Council held its annual open house last week, giving Lake Oswegans a chance to sit down with City officials and talk about the issues that they feel need to be addressed in the community.
Topping the list this year: the possibility of building a community pool, plans for the municipal golf course and what to do about the City's ban on short-term rentals.
Councilors will now incorporate much of what the heard from residents into their discussions on Jan. 6, when they meet for their annual goal-setting retreat at the new Operations and Maintenance Center.
Municpal golf course
The City's municipal golf course has been a frequent topic of discussion in the past year. Although the course remains quite popular in the community, it has faced a consistent decline in annual play rates for the past several years and now operates at a financial loss.
At its last goal-setting retreat almost a year ago, the council added "decide the future of the municipal golf course" to its agenda for 2017. A decision has not yet been made, but the council has looked at several options solicited from city staff, including remodeling the course to a 12-hole or 9-hole configuration and selling off a portion of the remaining area to pay for the changes.
Shutting the course down entirely was among the options presented, but all of the councilors have said they are firmly opposed to the idea.
The idea of downsizing the course has been put on the table, however, and many of the residents at the open house expressed concern, especially if the plan involves selling off any land. Some said they objected to cutting into any of the city's open spaces, while others said they were concerned about oversized homes being built on the sold-off land.
The idea of a 9-hole course itself also had its share of detractors; visitors said they preferred a full-size course, and one visitor argued that a 9-hole course would backfire because it would be too small to accommodate the current course's full player roster during peak hours, resulting in some players being turned away instead of attracting more new players.
A large contingent of would-be Airbnb hosts also attended the meeting and called for the council to reconsider its decision to effectively ban short-term rentals in Lake Oswego's residential areas.
City code prohibits rentals that last fewer than 30 days, except in commercial areas. The provision has existed since long before the arrival of Airbnb and other online platforms that allow residential homeowners to connect with travelers and rent spaces in their houses. But the rules were only enforced if someone complained to the city, so the rise of Airbnb has created a situation in which dozens of rental hosts have been operating under the table.
Earlier this year, the council discussed the possibility of changing the rules to create a legal framework for Airbnb units to operate in the city, but ultimately opted to maintain the ban and step up enforcement to discourage scofflaws.
Most of the public testimony during the initial discussion came from residents who objected to short-term rentals in their neighborhoods and supported the ban, but the decision to step up enforcement has been met with protests from Airbnb hosts, prompting the council to reconsider its decision later in the year. Once again, the council opted to maintain the ban, but by a much closer 4-3 vote the second time around.
Several Airbnb hosts came forward at last week's meeting to challenge the decision and asked the council to revisit the issue again in 2018. One of the visitors, who said she had recently retired, told Councilor John LaMotte that the extra income from the rental service would allow her to keep her house in Lake Oswego.
Others also pointed to the local economic benefits that they said would come from allowing short-term rentals, such as transient lodging tax revenue for the city and more customers for local businesses. And many said concerns about rowdy guests were overblown.
"I think most of us and our guests have very low footprints," one attendee told Councilor Jeff Gudman.
"If I were a criminal, I wouldn't go to an Airbnb," another visitor said to Councilor Theresa Kohlhoff. "I'd go to an anonymous hotel."
LaMotte, who voted to overturn the ban, said he thought the council may have rushed to judgement on the issue. But Kohlhoff raised concerns about impacts to affordable housing caused by short-term rentals, especially in cases where a host owns multiple houses purely for the purpose of renting them out.
Even if the rules were changed to allow rentals but limit them to owner-occupied houses, Kohlhoff said, rule breakers could still slip by due to the city's lax enforcement policy, which would take houses off the market.
"We are lousy about enforcement," she said. "You can't have both new affordable housing stock and Airbnb at the same time."
She pressed some of the visitors on whether they were calling for total freedom for Airbnb hosts, or whether they would support specific rules such as a mandate that all hosts must live in the homes they are renting and not rent out unoccupied houses.
Several of the visitors said they would support such restrictions, and one attendee called for the formation of a mandatory association of local hosts that could police itself to enforce the rules.
Many of the residents in attendance also had a lot to say about the possibility of a community pool, and the City Council immediately revisited the issue at its meeting Tuesday night. (See story, Page A1). The council is tentatively scheduled to return to the golf course issue at its next meeting on Dec. 19.
Airbnb is currently not on the agenda, but several councilors indicated at the open house that they would be open to further discussion next year.