(Update: County may proceed with campground/RV park plans, short-term rentals business license)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Deschutes County commissioners voiced a generally positive reception Monday to a consultants’ report on three possible recreational campground/RV sites, and to a staff report laying out the details of a possible business license for short-term rental properties in the unincorporated counties.
The projects are unrelated, other than sharing a short agenda before commissioners headed to the Association of Oregon Counties’ three-day conference in Eugene, meaning no Wednesday board meeting.
Both proposals also are early in the process, with many details and some potential challenges to consider and work through. But neither report presented the board with insurmountable obstacles, so staff and commissioners will proceed with gathering more details and feedback, to see if they can be realized.
The county contracted for about $100,000 with ECONorthwest to do a preliminary analysis of three possible of private or public RV parks and recreational campgrounds on three sites: Fort Thompson Lane, north of Bend, along Drafter Road in La Pine and at Crooked River Ranch.
The Drafter Road site, within the city of La Pine, “has some of the most attractive conditions to host an RV park development,” the consultants’ report said, including direct highway access, conducive zoning and existing infrastructure, but notes “potential challenges,” including needing exceptions to state land-use goals.
“The projected development cost here (for a 63-site campground/RV park) is around $3.7 million, but with an expected return between 9.9 and 11 percent, the investment seems justifiable,” the report says.
The Fort Thompson Lane site has a lot of space, but similar land-use challenges and a canal that bisects the property. The development cost for a 300-site RV park of $21.6 million could be a taller bar to clear. And the consultants say the Crooked River Ranch site “presents a set of unique challenges,” including rugged terrain and lack of utility infrastructure and zoning regulations against camping.
ECONorthwest notes “several viable options” for funding a campground/RV park, such as room tax revenues or grants. “As for operational strategies, the county could take the lead in management, or explore public-private partnerships, which have proven successful in other regions.”
The report also studied existing campgrounds and RV sites around the county, which average 60% occupancy year-round, mostly full on summer weekends.
Commissioner Phil Chang asked about how land-use rules would look at possible parks or trails developed in conjunction with an RV park, though the cost and revenue sources weren’t factored into the report.
He also said he wasn’t too worried about meeting land-use goal “exceptions,” noting that such rezoning “happens all the time” on parcels with poor soils and no irrigation or surface water rights. “I’m not as concerned about that as other things, such as access,” he said.
Commission Chair Tony DeBone called the study “a great starting point to really think about where the next RV-type sites are possible, from the county point of view.” Chang said he, too, was “excited about this report” and the opportunities it lays out to respond to “substantial demand” for such offerings.
Colleague Patti Adair noted the high initial cost estimates, especially for the Fort Thompson Lane site, an area she’s been working on. “I think we need to do some more digging,” she said, noting that while Drafter Road is “not the most exciting place for an RV Park,” the cost is significantly less.
Chang also said the county should look into whether it could seek a grant from Oregon Parks and Recreation in their next round, likely early next year.
As for the second agenda item, commissioners this fall directed Community Development Department Staff to look into options for a business license program for short-term rentals in the unincorporated county.
The county already collects transient room taxes on short-term rentals outside of the cities, using a software program that identifies STRs by cross-checking most online booking platform listings. The system also allows for the reporting, collection and payment of room taxes, but does not certify the lawful establishment of an STR.
As of last month, the county has about 3,200 short-term rental accounts, 2,400 of which are within destination resorts. The county Finance Department is working on getting nearly 800 accounts into compliance by completing registration forms for a “certificate of authority.”
“Requiring a business license for an STR is generally an option to provide guidelines and compliance standards without requiring a permit and/or making a land use determination,” the board’s briefing document states.
Possible components could include a review of wastewater systems, a “fire life safety” standards checklist, 24/7 property manager availability and whether the STR complies with regulations that allow them as outright permitted uses in single- or multi-family residential zones.
As for what the fee could be, staff said it could come up with a structure to recover the county’s costs of reviewing and issuing the initial and renewal licenses.
Staff responded to a question from Chang by acknowledging that without something like a business license, the county doesn’t have a mechanism to assure the short-term rentals have a 24/7 property manager who neighbors could reach in the event of concerns, such as noise at night or on weekends.
Chang also said while all the rentals would need a license, he could “see treating resorts differently” than individual properties elsewhere in the rural county, such as a two-tier fee structure, “significantly lower” for resorts that already oversee many of the outlined issues.
“If the majority of the board wants no fee inside the destination resorts, I could get there, possibly,” he said.
Chang said not just property owners but their neighbors should be notified of any hearings or meetings on the proposed business license.
Adair asked what other counties with such fees charge, and Jen Patterson, the county’s strategic initiatives manager, said the fee to cover costs of a licensing program, it likely would be “well under $500” for the initial fee, with a smaller renewal fee, depending on the number of properties included.
Staff also noted that such business licenses could be challenged in court, making it a multi-year process.
DeBone said, “The intention, the starting point for me is to reduce the (short-term rental) impacts to the neighbors.” Adair said, “I would like to hear from the community,” and Patterson told the board that staff will work on what the next public outreach steps would be.
Details on the items can be found at the links in Monday morning's county commission agenda.
The board also will agreed on a letter of support to submit to the city of Bend Landmarks Commission, which will hold a Nov. 21 hearing on the county's proposal to save the facade of the A.J. Tucker Building, which will be removed during the upcoming courthouse expansion project. No one submitted a bid to remove the building when the county sought such requests earlier this year.