July 17, 2019: Kickoff Conversation 

On Wednesday, July 17th, 2019, approximately 200 people packed into the Orcas Island Public School Cafeteria to take part in a discussion about vacation rentals. Opening remarks were given by Yonatan Aldort. Presenters highlighted the growing number of out-of-county vacation rental (VR) owners and shortage of affordable housing as points of concern (see Vacation Rental Trends), in addition to exploring how other municipalities around the world have responded to the explosion of short-term rentals as a commercial industry (see Global Impacts).

Following the presentations, roundtable groups engaged in discussions, sharing personal experiences, weighing the pros and cons of vacation rentals, and identifying questions about the issue. Finally, each table chose one or two topics that were most important to them to report back to the entire assembly.

The most common themes among the important topics identified included concerns about the impact on availability and affordability of housing, loss of neighborhood character, overtourism, pressure on resources, and the over-commercialization of Orcas Island as a whole. These are summarized in Findings.

Attendees also expressed interest in learning more about what regulations might be effective, particularly what options might be available to distinguish between local and out-of-county VR owners during permitting. There was also a strong desire for additional data and research on various aspects of the impacts caused by vacation rentals.

Vacation rentals are a complex issue, and our conversation included people with a wide range of perspectives. However, a large majority of participants expressed concerns about the negative impacts of unchecked growth of short-term rentals and were interested in exploring changes to the existing regulations.